Somewhere Review

            Somewhere is definitely one of those films that you like more than you respect.  Sure you like the qualities and ideas that the movie brings up, but the movie either drops these qualities and ideas too quickly or uses them in a cliché fashion.  That is not to say the film wasn’t enjoyable because it, most certainly, was.

            Somewhere follows actor Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff) who is a womanizer/life-of-the-party figure.  When his daughter comes to visit one day, he essentially has a mid-life crisis.  The film follows his process through this crisis.

            Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation) directs and writes the film.  While the directing is phenomenal, the screenplay is a disaster.  It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that a 10 year old with some sort of knowledge of movies could write this screenplay.  There is minimal use of dialogue, and the film is lucky in that it is saved from this by some great cinematography and good casting.  However, the ending of the film could not be salvaged from the screenplay.  The result is one of the most clichéd endings in film history.

            As mentioned above, the cast of this movie is one of its saviors.  Stephen Dorff does some great subtle acting here.  The role does not require a lot from him, but he has to do the very difficult task of holding the screen the entire time.  Not only does he have to hold it the entire time, but he has to do it with minimal dialogue and with actions that make him look despicable.  If he comes across as looking as the bad guy, the movie would fail completely.  Luckily, Dorff succeeds.  Another important part of the cast is Elle Fanning as Johnny’s daughter Cleo.  Fanning and Dorff have amazing chemistry together.  Fanning is also able to show a wide range of emotions and a lot of physicality that would be tough for an actress in her prime to pull off let alone a 12-year old actress (which is Elle Fanning’s age at the release of the film).  The big surprise of the film, however, is Chris Pontius who comes off as extremely likeable and does not at all fill the dumb but loyal friend stereotype his character was meant to be (which is even more surprising when you realize that Pontius’s biggest claim to fame is the Jackass series).

            Another saving grace of the film is the cinematography, which is easily some of the best work done on any film this year.  It somehow allows you to be enticed by an image for long amounts of time as the shots of choice for the film are long shots that zoom in or out on it’s point of attraction.  Cinematography was not the only behind the camera aspect that was good.  The film also has a good soundtrack that mixes some old and current hits into the film.

            It might just be that I love films about the Hollywood lifestyle, but I should not have liked this film as much as I did.  The screenplay is an absolute train wreck, but the parts surrounding it make up for it in the end.

Somewhere was released in Los Angeles and in New York this past Wednesday and will be released to other cities at a later date


True Grit Review

            Is the Dude better than the Duke?  With this question I am of course referring to whether Jeff Bridges was able to pull off a better Rooster Cogburn than John Wayne in the Coen brothers’ version of True Grit.  The answer to this is no but Jeff Bridges does, however, give an equal performance of the great John Wayne.  The movie, itself, is an equal to the original too.

            True Grit follows Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) as she tries to avenge the death of her father after he was murdered by Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin).  She acquires the help of a marshal of “true grit”, Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges).  Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon) joins along on their quest as they try to capture Tom Chaney and take out the notorious gang leader Lucky Ned Pepper (Barry Pepper).

            The remake of True Grit is directed and written by the Coen brothers, who seemed a perfect fit for this Western.  Not only does the source material rely on characters and dialogue over action (a major trait of any Coen brothers movie), but the western itself is as American as it gets when it comes to genres (just like the New York native Coen brothers).  For the first two acts, the Coen brothers are indeed the perfect fit for the film.  They make the characters of the film stand out, and, despite being an adapted screenplay, they are able to put their on style on to the page and screen.  All of the tiny little mistakes in the first film are completely erased as the Coen brothers get rid of any of the incompetence in the plot of the original.  However, the brothers are unable to completely stick the landing.  The brothers choose to not give any resolution to the relationships of the characters (which the original did so effectively).  While this worked effectively in No Country For Old Men, it does not here.

            As good as Jeff Bridges is here (and he really is as he has the charisma in the role to have his performance stand with John Wayne's), the true standout is Hailee Steinfeld.  Mattie Ross is the true lead character in this movie and Steinfeld is able to hold the screen the entire time.  Even with bigger names (such as Bridges and Matt Damon) on the screen with her, your attention is always directed towards Steinfeld.  Matt Damon is great as La Boeuf and a definite upgrade over Glen Campbell (who never gave the character any clarity in his actions).  Josh Brolin is just as good as Tom Chaney and never goes into campiness like Jeff Corey does in the original.  The only downgrade in the cast is Barry Pepper as Lucky Ned Pepper, who is nowhere near as good as Robert Duvall.

            Behind the camera, the art direction, costume design, makeup, score, editing and especially cinematography are phenomenal.  The only real problem in this great film is the ending.  Despite this, it easily stands with the great original in quality.


Black Swan Review

            Upon seeing The Silence of the Lambs for the first time, I realized that it would be a long time before a better psychological horror film was made.  Surprisingly that day has come (19 years later) with Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan.

            Black Swan follows ballerina Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) as she trains to win the lead role in Swan Lake.  Describing anything more about the plot would delve into spoiler territory (and trust me, the less you know about this one, the better), but what I can say is that the film is one of the grittiest, sexiest, and jump-out-of-your-seat-iest movies ever.

            Having seen only The Wrestler out of all of Darren Aronofsky’s films I have thought that he was a very good (if not great) director (I would actually recommend watching The Wrestler before seeing Black Swan as I got a totally different experience from this film having watched The Wrestler then someone who has not.).  However, with Black Swan, Aronofsky proves (as many of his fans probably already know) he is one of the best directors in the business.  Black Swan is a true directorial masterpiece.  The script (written by Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz and John L. McLaughlin) is good but it’s Aronofsky’s vision that makes this film a true masterpiece.  You cannot imagine anyone else making this film.  Aronofsky’s style oozes from every shot of this movie.

            As great as Aronofsky is, the true MVP of this film is Natalie Portman.  Portman gives a performance that will be listed on many all-time great performances lists for years to come.  As mentioned above, knowledge of The Wrestler allows you to figure out where the film is going to end.  Aronofsky places a huge bet on the viewer becoming completely attached to Nina Sayers and her fate.  Luckily, Aronofsky makes the right one as Portman completely sells the character and makes the audience fall in love with her.  So when the film reveals where it is heading it is just that much harder to take Nina’s eventual fate.  It is like watching a train wreck in progress in the best possible way.  You are really hoping that it will be alright when in the back of your mind you know it is not.  To make her performance even more astonishing, you can tell that Portman lost weight to fit the character and even performs a lot of the ballet moves.  Her acting in the last 20 minutes will leave you stunned.  It will be on acting highlight reels for years.  Even though this is Portman’s movie, the rest of the cast is very good.  Vincent Cassel is great as the almost-villainous ballet teacher.  Barbara Hershey is very creepy as the overprotective mother and Winona Ryder is very convincing in her role as a disgraced ballerina.  Mila Kunis is good (albeit a little overrated by most critics) as a fellow ballerina.

            If the phenomenal directing and acting weren’t enough, many of the behind the camera aspects of the film are great too.  The handheld cinematography works very effectively as it brings you right into the action.  The dark and haunting score perfectly fits in with the exploits of the characters on screen.  The editing is quick and almost-disorientating (just as it should be for a film like this).  The costume and art direction are perfect for a movie about the world of ballet.

            Black Swan may be described as “The Wrestler on acid”, but it is truly better than that great film in every aspect.  Black Swan is a real masterpiece. 


Rabbit Hole Review

         Have you ever had that feeling of being surrounded by so much bleakness that when you get some tiny “light at the end of the tunnel” you feel as though you have finally reached the end of the rainbow?  This is Rabbit Hole in a nutshell.
         Rabbit Hole (which is based off of the 2005 play of the same name and is being released in New York and Los Angeles tomorrow) follows a couple (Nicole Kidman & Aaron Eckhart) grieving over the loss of their young son after he was killed in a car accident eight months prior to the events of the film.  As the film continues, both individuals try to find solace with the event.
         The film is directed by John Cameron Mitchell (Hedwig and the Angry Inch) and written by David Lindsay-Abaire (who wrote the play version of the film).  Both are essential in creating the bleak atmosphere of the film and bringing out phenomenal performances from the cast.  Additionally, the final scene is a tour de force in directing and writing.
         The cast is phenomenal and make no mistake that this is an acting film.  Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart are astounding in the lead roles.  Kidman, especially, makes you feel every heartbreak that she suffers throughout the film. However, make no mistake that Eckhart holds his own with Kidman (which was surprising to me because I find that while watching Eckhart in a film trying to inhabit a character you can still see him acting).  Of the supporting cast, Dianne Wiest and Sandra Oh are good as the mother of Nicole Kidman’s character and a possible love interest for Aaron Eckhart’s character respectively.  However, the standout is Miles Teller as a young man with a connection to the car accident.
         Of special note behind the camera are the cinematography (which is very beautiful for such a bleak film) and the score (which perfectly fits the tone of the film and even on its own is one of the better scores of the year).  Otherwise, the rest of the elements of the film are quite average.
         Most memorable of all in this film, was its ending.  Throughout the film, the characters are put through one gut-wrenching event after another. So when these characters (SPOILER ALERT) finally get some catharsis (END SPOILER ALERT), you, as a viewer, can’t help but cry in happiness with them.
         Rabbit Hole is an amazing film that borders on being a masterpiece.  Great direction, a tight script and Nicole Kidman putting on a clinic on great acting make this film stand above most.  


Buried Review

            Gimmick films tend to be disappointing.  They always bring you in with an interesting premise (and of course the gimmick), but in the middle of the film most of them drop the gimmick to finish the story (like the good, but still disappointing, sci-fi film of 2009, District 9).  When I heard of the plot of Buried (A guy wakes up in a coffin and tries to find how he got there and find his way out before his oxygen supply runs out) and found out that the film was 90 minutes long, I immediately set myself up to be disappointed.  How could a 90 minute long film stay inside a tiny coffin for its entire duration with just one actor on the screen?  Well I was in for a surprise when Buried answered the question.
            As mentioned above, Buried is about a truck driver (Ryan Reynolds) in Iraq that is abducted and buried inside a coffin with just a few other supplies.  The film is directed by Rodrigo Cortes, a Spanish director who had his big break in the United States with this film.  The screenwriter, Chris Sparling, makes his big break with this film as well.  Both of their work (whether it be Sparling’s tight and crisp script or Cortes’ claustrophobic and tense style of directing) are the major factors for the success of this film.  The skill that these two bring to the table makes it impossible to look away from the screen and (like a certain summer blockbuster) makes you gasp in shock to the film’s (spoiler alert) ambiguous ending (end spoiler alert).

            No one has ever doubted that Ryan Reynolds has charisma, but there always have been questions about if he was reaching his full potential.  Those questions stop here.  Reynolds creates a tour de force performance with this film and holds the screen by himself (ala Tom Hanks in Cast Away) throughout its entirety.  Besides Reynolds, great voice work is done by Robert Paterson and Stephen Tobolowsky.
            Behind the camera aspects for this film are amazing.  The intensity of this film (and the suspense within it) has as much to do with the editing (also done by Rodrigo Cortez) as it does the directing and writing.  The cinematography is also amazing considering all of the shots in the film are in a space under 10 feet in length.
            With Buried, we have an exciting thriller that will have you clutching your armchair until the very end.  Even more amazing is that it features a breakthrough directorial job and a star reaching his true potential.


The Walking Dead: Season 1 Review

            Zombies have long been a part of film lore (even to the point that nothing shocking comes from these types of movies anymore).  However, what is shocking (and definitely new ground) is a zombie television series.  In comes the thrilling new series, The Walking Dead (that just completed its first season on Sunday). 
            The Walking Dead follows a group of survivors after the zombie apocalypse.  The group is led by the protagonist and sheriff’s deputy, Rick Grimes.  Also among the group is Rick’s wife, Lori, and “best friend”, Shane.  The first season followed the group as they tried to find weapons, deal with an ambush by zombies and try to find the CDC (which Rick believes will be their best chance at survival).
            The series was created by the accomplished movie director Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption).  Darabont wrote most of the episodes and directed the pilot.  His presence is definitely felt as the series is expertly crafted and the series’ tense and disturbing tone rarely fades away.  Other series directors and writers are great too.  Of particular interest are Michelle MacLaren (director of “Guts”), Ernest Dickerson (director of “Wildfire”) and Glenn Mazzara (writer of “Wildfire”), who all display great ability in their craft.
            The cast, although adequate, does not do as much for the series as the crew does.  Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes is very inconsistent.  He is great at being a tough guy crusader but his monologues get annoying quick with his terrible attempt at a southern accent.  The rest of the series regulars range from okay (Joe Bernthal as Rick’s friend and fellow cop) to downright awful (Sarah Wayne Callies as Rick’s wife) with the exception of Jeffrey DeMunn who quickly grew on me as the father figure of the group.  The guest stars were definitely the saviors of the cast with knockout turns from Lennie James (as a father with trouble letting go), Michael Rooker (as a villainous racist), Norman Reedus (who plays the brother of Michael Rooker’s character) and Noah Emmerich (as a CDC scientist).
            The behind the camera aspects of this series are what make it unique.  Not since the Lost pilot and the days of Battlestar Galactica has a tv series looked so gorgeous (sorry Breaking Bad fans, I still haven’t watched that entire series yet).  Visual effects genius Gregory Nicotero, in particular, works wonders for the series.  If his work on the makeup was eligible for an Oscar, it would win in a cakewalk.  It is that good.
            The Walking Dead has been a very consistent series that has maintained a “very good status” from episode to episode (despite a disappointing finale).  The pilot was the best episode (with “Wildfire” being another standout) but there is not much difference between The Walking Dead’s best episode and its worst episode (probably “Tell it to the Frogs” which focused too much on building up its epic third act rather than building characters properly).  That being said the pilot and any other episode was nothing revolutionary and not something that will be remembered for years to come.  However, due to its consistency the series itself probably will.


AllTrail's Connecticut Top 10

If you ever want to get into hiking there is no greater app that I could recommend than AllTrails. Due to a large user base, AllTrails has o...

Popular Posts