Intriguing and insightful story about a seldom visited topic: foster care facilities for at-risk kids (in the US). The audience discovers this world through Grace’s eyes (Larson) and her co-workers. She is a young counselor who has been working for a few years at one of these facilities, she is capable, understanding and very dedicated to her job. Her boyfriend Mason (Gallagher) also works at the same center with equal dedication and kindness, and he does his best both at work and home, being caring and thoughtful with Grace, who seems to be going through a tough time. The audience gets acquainted with the center’s inhabitants along with a new counselor named Nate (Malek), Grace and Mason introduce some of the kids to him: there’s Marcus (Stanfield), who’s about to turn 18 and, therefore, will be leaving the facility soon, Sammy (Calloway), who’s going through a deep psychological trauma, and Luis (Hernandez), who’s easygoing but enjoys bullying Marcus. A new arrival, Jayden (Dever), is clearly quite traumatised and Grace takes particular care of her. She, however, ends up relating and deeply empathising (maybe too much) with Jayden, due to the particular conjuncture of events in her personal life. Grace will go to extremes to protect Jayden and face her inner demons in the process. Destin Cretton, in this debut feature, skillfully directs a talented young cast without falling into the trap of looks-before-substance, that sometimes dooms a indie film.The hand-held camera work and close-ups of the characters make for good storytelling, enhanced by a lovely photography. The story arc of Grace is very compelling thanks to Larson’s intense, convincing acting, helped along by strong performances of the rest of the cast, Gallagher and Dever especially. I particularly enjoyed the nice touch of Mason sharing a story with Nate at the beginning and at the end of the movie as encouragement and hope for the future. This film turns out to be a little gem, everything an indie movie should be and more.Uplifting and unconventional –8/10
Doctor Cukrowicz (Clift) is a young and capable neurosurgeon, recently arrived at the Lions View Hospital in New Orleans from Chicago. He is developing an experimental treatment for mental illnesses: lobotomy, considered a rather cutting-edge (pun intended) and effective approach in 1937. Having read about him in the newspaper, Mrs Violet Venable (Hepburn), a wealthy and well known widow, summons the good doctor to her house and presses him into using his surgeon’s skills on her disturbed niece, Cathy (Taylor), who is currently residing at a private facility for the mentally ill. The board is set for this family drama to unfold, the viewer will slowly discover more details about Violet and Cathy along with the Doc and, naturally, there is a deep, dark secret that will be uncovered at the end. In this character-driven film, deftly directed by Mankiewicz, women have the lion’s share: Hepburn and Taylor are both brilliant and give spellbinding interpretations. Violet makes a very striking entrance, coming down in an open elevator, all wrapped in white and talking fondly about her son Sebastian, the poet. The audience learns about gifted, charming Sebastian who died, suddenly, the previous summer in Spain, while travelling with his cousin Cathy. The latter came back rather “unhinged” and with an amnesia about what exactly happened to Sebastian. She is committed to a facility and basically held there because of her unseemly tales about Sebastian, which Violet finds disquieting. We also detect a simmering anger and jealousy in Violet, since she had an unsound, possessive, co-dependent relationship with her son and she resents and holds Cathy responsible for what occurred. The doctor is caught up between these two strong women and seems a bit lost at times, mostly due to Clift’s portrayal, very subdued and lacking the necessary clout and charisma. The story is moved forward through what it would be considered today an excess of dialogue, which is understandable being an adaptation of a play by Williams, but I think it works very well and it helps in shaping all-round characters. The only complaint about the film could be about not using enough the visual medium as a way to tell the story, although Mankiewicz made some interesting choices for the final monologue that I found very effective. Riveting –7.5/10
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This post is part of the Great Katharine Hepburn Blogathon hosted by Margaret Perry, read all the other interesting contributions here:
The second chapter of Captain America’s story (or the fourth chapter of the Avengers?) is about a conspiracy and a new, scary Big Bad. Although Earth (and the Universe!) has been recently saved by Thor, it manages to get in jeopardy again pretty soon, this time around the menace comes from within S.H.I.E.L.D. and nobody can trust no one… see alien races, we are perfectly capable to annihilate our species all by ourselves, you don’t need to break a sweat. Steve Rogers (Evans) has to face this new peril all by himself, relying only on his running buddy Sam (Mackie), who happens to be a super-trained soldier a.k.a the Falcon. Devious and cunning agent Romanov (Johansson) will eventually prove her loyalty as well and lend a hand (and a flying kick) to the cause. In the meantime, shrewd Nick Fury (Jackson) plays dead to find out who is behind the evil scheme and how far its ramifications go. Primary agent of villainy and legendary hitman, the Winter Soldier (Stan) wrecks havoc and brings ruin wherever he is sent and he can hold his own against the Cap. He is, however, only a blunt instrument in a much bigger plan of the true villain, Alexander Pierce (Redford). What can I say? The action scenes are top-notch, I wouldn’t have expected anything less, sly Fury gets a bigger part to play and brings some layers to the cliched plot, badass Black Widow feels more like the token strong woman this time around, to appease the female audience (and be ogled by the male one), than a character in her own right (Marvel still fails spectacularly the Bechdel test!). Falcon is just the sidekick/comic relief and the Winter Soldier is one-dimensional and loses his aura of danger and mystery too soon, becoming just a tackling amnesiac. Super-villain Pierce is hindered by a poor script, making him too stereotypical, Redford’s valiant effort notwithstanding. Last but not least, Captain America himself: gallant and noble soldier, white,red and blue hero and so boring! Chris Evans does a pretty good portrayal of the character but I’ve never warmed up to him, sorry, but I need some bad boy in my superhero and a bit of humor. Far more interesting is Loki’s impersonation of the Cap in Thor 2, in which Evans renders Loki’s mannerism brilliantly:
In conclusion: conspiracy, mysterious baddie, attack ships on fire, tons of fist fights, nazis on steroids and pulling a Snowden to save the day…mmm, sometimes less is more but the Russo bros missed that crucial lesson. This movie wants to be serious but lacks the necessary nuances to be compelling, a dose of humor would have helped the final result. Not up to snuff –5.5/10
In this Australian, post-western film, written (and scored) by Nick Cave and directed by John Hillcoat, evil seems to take many forms and shapes but it is made flesh and unanimously recognised in Arthur Burns (Huston). Outlaw and murderer, he terrorises the Australian outback along with his gang, which includes his younger brothers Charlie (Pearce) and Mikey (Wilson). After a particular heinous crime (the murder of the whole Hopkins family, after raping pregnant Mrs. Hopkins), the brothers split and, while Arthur holes up in a hideout in the hills, Charlie and Mikey are captures by Captain Stanley (Winstone) and his men as the result of a bloody shoot out. At this point take place the titular proposition: Capt. Stanley offers to set Charlie free and have the opportunity to save young Mikey from execution if he finds and kills Arthur in the next nine days, otherwise Mike will be hanged on Christmas day. The viewer then follows the unfolding of two parallel stories: Charlie’s unholy quest and Capt. Stanley struggles to keep a balance between his terrible job (“I will civilise this land!”) and his quiet life with his wife Martha (Watson), whom he tries to shelter and protect for the horrible reality they live in. Hillcoat uses very deftly extreme contrasts to drive home the harshness of British settlement days in the late nineteen century Australia, such as serving tea with proper manners and beautiful porcelain set and flogging, Martha’s impeccable attire and hairdo and the dirt, the dust and roughness of the little town, the violence and ruthlessness of the policemen and the peace and charm of Stanley’s house and garden. In a calculated choice, the audience doesn’t even see Arthur’s face before almost forty minutes into the movie, we just glimpse his back in a stunning, scenery shot. His name and deeds keep being mentioned by various characters, sometimes in whispers like he could suddenly manifest and wreck havoc, some are just hearsay or legend among the aborigines of a white man gone mad. When the viewer finally meets the man, it is almost anticlimactic, he is still, seemingly at peace, clearly intelligent, well-read and more than capable of meaningful human connections, in particular with his brother Charlie. So, one might ask: where is the blood-thirsty psychopath? The beast in human form? Well, we get to see him very soon when Arthur slowly runs a knife through Jelion Lamb’s (Hurt) heart after telling him: “this is going to hurt”. Afterwards there is a chain of events that leads to a harrowing and bloody conclusion, obviously, but no clear victory, no black and white answer, just the lingering doubt that everyone has participated in wrong-doings even if it is just by inaction: “Australia, what fresh hell is this?”. Although a disturbing tale, this film is beautifully shot and the cast gives persuasive portrayal of their characters: Huston, Pearce and Winstone, in particular, are top-notch. Daunting and haunting. –8/10
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This post is part of the The Great Villain Blogathon hosted by a terrific trio of ladies: Ruth of Silver Screenings, Karen of Shadows & Satin and Kristina of Speakeasy. Check out all the other posts on their blogs.
Tracy Letts adapted his Pulitzer winning play for the screen and it is a very interesting study of characters and family dynamics. With John Wells at the helm, an old and honest hand at the craft, we get, alternatively, dark, stuffy interiors and burning summer light on the plains of Oklahoma, nice juxtaposition that underlines the inner turmoils and difficult relationships of the Weston family. The family members reunites under rather gloomy circumstances: the disappearance and then death of the patriarch, Beverly (Shepard). It appears clear to his eldest daughter Barbara (Roberts) that he committed suicide, having made arrangements such as hiring a help for his cancer-suffering, pill-popping wife, Violet (Streep), two days before vanishing. The audience slowly learns about the past of each character and how they became what they are, in particular we get an deep insight into Violet: the harsh childhood and difficulties of her early life, and her sister Mattie (Martindale), turned them both into strong-willed, unforgiving women and relentless mothers and wives. It is a rather dismal portrait of what people can do to the psychological health of their children. Barbara is the eldest and clearly the favorite but, being an opinionated, strong woman herself, keeps locking horns with her mother, unfortunately, in turns, she is alienating her soon-to-be ex-husband Bill (McGregor) and teenager daughter (Abigail Breslin). Ivy (Nicholson) is the mild-mannered, submissive daughter, who does everything to help her mother (she is the only one who lives nearby) and avoid confrontations (which seems a self-defense technique). Karen (Lewis) is the free-spirit but insecure one, always undervalued and dismissed by Violet, who either runs away from her problems or desperately tries to fix them finding the “right” man. Among this gallery of “terrible” women the men seems both helpless (and hapless) and the only ones who can achieve some redeeming qualities. While longtime alcoholic and poet Beverly finds that the only way through is to walk out of this raw deal, his brother-in-law Charlie (Cooper) attempts to be level-headed, patient and kind, proving to be the most balanced person of the whole family. Little Charlie (Cumberbatch) is the most pitiful of the lot: disliked and verbally abused by his mother Mattie, with zero self-worth and self-esteem, still shows a gentle nature and a kind soul. As always, family reunion will bring up old stories and things that rub the wrong way, including long-kept secrets. It is very far from the Brady bunch and not a edifying picture of familiar relations but, nonetheless, an amazing study of human nature with all its ordinary flaws. The cast as an ensemble is spectacular and makes the film, the lion share is, of course, taken in equal parts by Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts, both stretching their acting chops very effectively. Special kudos to Cooper and Cumberbatch for their portrayal of decent men. Intriguing –7.5/10
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George Clooney as a director has an uneven record, it’s kind of one hit and one miss. This film is, unfortunately, a miss, stellar cast notwithstanding. It is a story set during the last true “good” war: between the ever righteous Americans (with some help from those nice English chaps) and the evil Nazis! It is about a group of men who are not soldiers but art experts (being museum curators, art historians, architects or artists) and whose mission is to rescue artistic masterpieces stolen by the Nazis from museums and churches around Europe and return them to their rightful owners. Strong of a mandate from FDR himself, Frank Stokes (Clooney) puts together a band of unlikely heros to rob three casinos in Las Vegas…oops no, sorry, that was another movie! They arrive in France, not long after D-Day and, with barely any training as soldiers, venture to the front and split in groups trying to reach precious artifacts before the Germans have time to smuggle them away. Naturally, they are too late! Nazis are not only evil but real devils when it comes to organisation and logistics. From this point on, it is a giant treasure hunt through Europe and a race against time, since the prime directive from the Fuhrer is to destroy everything if the Reich falls (and the Germans aren’t doing so well by the end of 1944). Instrumental in helping the Monument Men is Claire Simone (Blanchett), curator of the Jeu De Paume museum in Paris, who kept a detailed record of all the works of art that came to the museum and that were later moved to secret locations by the Germans. She is the most interesting character of the film because she is the only one the audience has the chance to know a little better, the others are just one-dimensional cardboard silhouettes, devoid of any character development, which is a great flaw in a movie that is supposed to be about these happy few men who chose to risk their lives for what they believed in. Yes, yes, the message is very uplifting (prevent the destruction of centuries of culture and history and save what really makes us human) but the delivery is rather clumsy. There are a few funny one-liners, some banter and witticism in a “brotherhood of men” kind of way, but it all feels flat and without pathos. It is not enough to cast Bill Murray, John Goodman, Hugh Bonneville and Matt Damon, if the script is uneven, lacking a clear direction and credibility (none of these men of culture is fluent in a foreign language or two, really?!? Damon’s character pitiful attempt at speaking French doesn’t count!). It is a pity because this movie could have been quite something considering the cast. Unsatisfying and ineffective –5/10
Apologies for the misleading title but this post is not about Spacey’s movie. RobbinsRealm, a fellow blogger and film/TV buff, reads my reviews and, apparently, likes them well enough to nominate me for The Liebster Award. What can I say? Many, many thanks for your consideration! Much obliged. I strongly suggest my (few) readers to go and check out his blog, you can find interesting and thought-provoking posts.
For those of you who don’t know what a Liebster Award is (like I didn’t, before a quick google search), it is basically a shout-out to bloggers you like with a small following. The origin seems to be a German blog (liebster means dearest in German) in 2010 (the things you learn on google!). The real gist of the Liebster Award is that there is no real award. There are neither judges, nor official website with a team of experts to congratulate you and shake your hand. It’s mostly what you want it to be. If you receive the award, you can A) accept it and B) pass it along i.e. it’s a Pay It Forward for bloggers.
The recipient must abide the following rules:
1. Post the award on your site.
2. The blogger who has been nominated must link back to the person who nominated them.
3. The nominee must answer the eleven questions given to them by the person who nominated them.
4. The person who has been nominated must choose eleven bloggers who have less than 200 followers to answer a set of questions.
5. When you are nominated, the only blogger you can’t nominate is the blogger who nominated you for the award.
These are my answers to the questions asked by RobbinsRealm:
1. Favorite vacation spot?
La Maddalena archipelago (Sardinia, Italy)
2. Favorite color?
3. Favorite dessert?
4. Favorite black and white movie?
5. Favorite superhero?
The Incredibles (the whole family is just great!)
6. Favorite television show?
It’s a tie: The Wire and Cowboy Bebop.
7. Favorite book?
This is the most difficult one… I would say Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, but there are a few other contenders to the title.
8. Favorite Beatles song?
9. Favorite dog breed?
10. Favorite beverage?
11. Favorite nerdy franchise?
Star Wars (duh!)
These are my nominees to the Liebster Award:
- Scrivere al bar
- Girls Do Film
- Mike’s Take On The Movies
- The Movie Evangelist
- Cinematic Underdogs & Overcats
- The Guilty Words
- The Robot Who Likes Pretty Things
- Whitman’s Barbaric Yawp…
- The Pop Culture Pulse
- Noodle Maps
A note for the nominees: it’s alright if you don’t feel like blogging about this award or answering all those questions, you get a honorary mention!
“A James Stewart picture must have two vital ingredients: it will be clean and it will involve the triumph of the underdog over the bully” is what the man himself once said and it is a very apt description of this classic film directed by John Ford. Although, canonically, this feature has always been considered a western, it doesn’t have any of its typical trademarks: no shots of the landscape, lack of horse rides, lack of proper gunfights and not a real bar scene. The movie opens with one lead as an old man, even if arrived and very well-respected, and the other one dead, just a pinewood box, also quite atypical. It has more of a post-western vibe: a bleak, claustrophobic black and white tale, with so many enclosed sets and no open range scenery. Ransom Stoddard (Stewart) is a State senator who comes back, with his wife Hallie (Miles), to Shinbone for the funeral of an old friend, Tom Doniphon (Wayne). The newspaper men have never heard of him, so why would such a powerful political figure visit the town to attend this funeral of a “nobody”? Through a flashback, Stoddard tells them the tale of how he came to town and met Tom. It is the story of a young lawyer full of hope in the progress of the nation and its laws, who goes west to be part of this civilization’s process, reminding me a quote from Dances With Wolves: “You wish to see the frontier? Yes sir, before it’s gone”. Unfortunately he has to face the hard truth: there the law of the gun is the only one truly respected. This lesson is taught right away by Liberty Valance (Marvin), ruthless gunslinger, who robs the stagecoach and beats him to a pulp for trying to defend a woman. Ransom is rescued by Tom and then he finds help and shelter at the Ericsons’ restaurant, where he meets Hallie. Not having a penny to his name but being a resourceful man, Ransom works in the kitchen of the restaurant to pay for bed and board and later starts also working for the local newspaper and teaching children and adults alike to read and write. Ransom is very vocal about upholding the law and fighting the local ruffians by arresting them and not settling matters with a gun but the town’s marshal is not a coeur-de-lion and Tom has a different opinion. In the midst of all this there is also a political issue: the territory is vying for statehood and Ransom ends up as town’s representative, instead of Valance. The latter keeps terrorising the community, he destroys the local newspaper office and brutally attacks the editor (O’Brien). Ransom calls him out, though the conclusion is not quite as straightforward as legend would have it. One very interesting thing about this film is Ford’s approach to violence. The most gruesome acts are never shown directly, the camera is pointed to the perpetrator and the audience sees only the result afterwards. It is a deliberate choice and an effective one, which increases the senselessness of it all. Everything considered, the movie is well acted (special kudos to Marvin and O’Brien), skillfully written and provides a complex and multi-layered analysis of legends and facts: is living a lie as a successful man better or worse than quietly dying as a hero? “This is the west, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend”. It is noteworthy to consider that for most of the film Ransom is a man in his late twenties/early thirties while Stewart at the time was in his mid-fifties (and Wayne as well), not exactly a spring chicken, but still he is quite believable in his role. Remarkable and riveting –8.5/10
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This is the story of Gustave H. (Fiennes), renown and beloved concierge at the legendary Grand Budapest Hotel between the two wars, and Zero (Revolori), who starts as a lobby boy and then become his protégé and most trusted friend. As is Wes Anderson’s wont a voice-over narration begins the tale, in this movie he chooses to built it as story within a story, using an old writer (Wilkinson) who remembers meeting an aging Zero (Abraham) when he was still young (Law). Old Zero will recall his youth and tell his story to the writer. Gustave takes Zero under his wing from the very beginning and start schooling him in the delicate art of running a luxury hotel flawlessly, while he takes care of every need of the guests: Gustave is a full monty concierge, especially with the ladies. This might be considered the root cause of the adventures and mishaps that follows, with a touch of Buster Keaton’s humor. The death of Madame D. (Swinton), a longtime guest at the hotel and dearly attached to Gustave, sets in motion a battle for her very large estate and the possession of a priceless Renaissance painting (bequeathed to Gustave and stolen by him right after the reading of the will, in a genius move). Dmitri (Brody), Madame D’s son, will not stop at nothing to get it all, including murder by proxis, since his faithful henchman Jopling (Dafoe) will do all the dirty work. He manages to frame Gustave for Madame D.’s murder and send him to prison, allowing the audience to be delighted by a cameo by Harvey Keitel, as fellow conscript and means to Gustave’s escape. Zero and his resourceful girlfriend Agatha (Ronan), the pastry apprentice, are essential in helping Gustave to evade, to clear his name and collect what is due to him, but the secret society of the concierges of European luxury hotels will play a key role as well (and we get a Bill Murray’s cameo). By the end, the viewer will finally be able to piece together all the different parts of the story, it does feel like a bittersweet ending after such a roller-coaster of adventures, but it is always the case when one has to part ways with such great characters. We get all the trademarks of Anderson’s style: static camera, artful use of colours and photography, quirky characters and subtle humor. It is one of his best films to date, also helped by an amazing cast: Fiennes above all. Hilarious, amusing and inspired –9/10
“1997 Escape From New York” meets “48 Hours” with a hint of “Transporter” (no surprise there, since Luc Besson is one of the writers), it sounds good on paper, I know, but all that glitters is not gold as it’s the case with this film. First we meet Leito (Belle), who lives in the titular banlieue, a degraded neighbourhood with run-down high rises at the outskirts of Paris. He’s a tough guy but he tries to protect the honest people of his district from the rampaging thugs and gangsters led by Taha (Naceri). Then the viewer makes the acquaintance of Damien (Raffaelli), Cpt. Tomaso of the Parisian police, who is tough but fair, works alone and is always respectful of the law. Both guys have Jet Li fighting skills and are champions of urban acrobatics, which makes the action scenes frenetic and impressive. Naturally they will pair up, not liking each other at the beginning, to save the day or, more precisely, Paris from Taha’s evil plan. In this testosterone fest we also get Lola (Verissimo-Petit), Leito’s sister, and almost as badass as him. She ends up, of course, being a prisoner and leverage but also instrumental in the final showdown (girl power!). First independently and later together, Damien and Leito will fight their way up the rungs of the thugs’ hierarchy to get to the bad guy and stop him, in a overly used and very predictable plot. The film is overdone and take itself too seriously, which is a little uncharacteristic for Besson. The complete lack of humor dooms it and makes it a boring flick, adrenaline-fueled scenes notwithstanding. Tedious –4/10
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A story of brotherly love and loss in a small town of America’s Rust Belt. Russell Baze (Bale) works a dead-end job at the local steel mill, takes care of his very sick father with his uncle’s (Shepard) help and his younger brother Rodney (Affleck) has been stop-lost and will soon go back to Iraq. Being a decent, hardworking man and wanting to built a life with his girlfriend (Saldana) is not something that is usually rewarded in life and Russell’s fate is only about to get worse. He ends up in prison for drinking and driving, after being involved in a car crash in which people lost their lives. When Russell has finally paid his debt to society, a few years have gone by and his world has changed: his father is dead, his girl has moved on and shacked up with Wesley Barnes (Whitaker), the chief of Braddock’s police, and his brother is broken, lost and in deep with the wrong crowd, after coming back from his tour in Iraq. Since the audience has met early on both the town’s small-time crook Petty (Dafoe) and the ruthless, all-round criminal DeGroat (Harrelson) from up north (Bergen, NJ), it is very clear that things will end bad, at this point it is just a matter of seeing how grim the story will turn out. Rodney is using his fighting skills as bare-knuckled boxer in illegal matches, trying to earn money to pay back a debt he has with Petty and have something left. Once he goes up in the Ramapough Mountains to fight in a match organised by DeGroat, he will never come back. This sends Russell over the edge and on a path of revenge but as Confucius said: “before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves”, which is quite an apt description of the ending. The slow burning pace of the movie, along with the rural and desolate settings, increase very effectively the foreboding mood of the story and a good characterisation keeps the viewer engaged. Although all the cast is excellent, I’d say that this is a Bale and Harrelson film, the latter in excellent form as the villain of the piece. Relentless –7/10
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