Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Hereafter (2010) – Review

Hereafter is aesthetically a well made film – it looks great, has fine performances – but it just does not work structurally, and the music does not fit. Director Clint Eastwood and writer Peter Morgan craft the story with an agenda to look at what happens when we die. And while the film does not explicitly go into the details, nor does it prescribe to a particular ideology (though, presumably one that does have some sort of Heaven-like afterlife), it does pursue the message of the comfort in faith, but through a gentle (anti-horror film) conception of ghosts and what awaits us. The story focuses on two characters: George Lonegan who turns his back on faith and Marie LeLay who has a life changing experience and is consumed by the fulfillment of and need to express what she has experienced. The structure of the film draws them together through chance encounters and events out of their control (destiny if you will). There is also a third main character (sort of) named Marcus, whose purpose is to drive the other two characters together – while facing tragedy (and too much screen time for his function) in the process. The issue with the narrative is that the character of Marie is not compelling. Her transformation is sort of force fed to the audience (whether you believe in a god and/or afterlife or not). While we accept there is an afterlife, as clearly in the world of the film there is, her journey still comes off as heavy-handed and agenda reinforced. The narrative would have been much more successful had it developed more organically and if she was a more compelling character. The viewer is not really given a true transformation in her character. George on the other hand is a very compelling character with a much more interesting journey and story, thus once the film leaves him and focuses on Marie or Marcus the audience is immediately waiting for it to return to George. Thus, a large portion of the film is un-engaging. The concept of loved ones looking out for us from beyond or waiting for us or wishing to deliver us a message of reconciliation is comforting and that is the angle that Morgan and Eastwood approached the film, but it is overly sappy. There are no real stakes. Sure, there is death, tragedy, pain and so on in the film but it is all positively transformative for the main characters. It may have been interesting to see a principal character not be able to deal and not come through better off. Marcus loses his brother, but there is the sense that the experience has caused him to take a positive step forward in his life and personal development (for example). Eastwood seems to be saying that embracing faith (and I am assuming of a Christian nature as that is what the film’s mythology seems to be based in) is the key to finding fulfillment in our lives, which is fine (and for many it may be true) – the issue though is that it does not feel genuine. The film is crafted and shaped too much to make non-believes ignorant and even villainous (which seems in context to be a bit close-minded). Another large issue with the film is that the score by Eastwood does not work at all with the tone of the visuals and narrative. It is awkward and takes the audience right out of the film. Hereafter has some good stuff in it, but overall the narrative is just not captivatingly structured.

Technical achievements: Eastwood and Morgan generally do good work. Here, however, their message seems to get in the way of an organically flowing narrative. Tom Stern’s cinematography is (as usual) good, but not as visually striking or interesting as some of his past work with Eastwood (films like Changeling, Letter from Iwo Jima and Million Dollar Baby). James J. Murakami’s production design is also not as interesting as his past work, but did match the tone of the film. As discussed above, Eastwood’s score was the weakest technical part of the film. It just did not fit what the viewer was seeing and feeling. The cast does a good job overall.  Matt Damon is the best part of the film. As usual, he delivers a great performance exhibiting inner strength and yet vulnerability. Cecile De France is good too, but her performance is hindered a bit by the fact that her character does not warrant the screen time she is given. George and Frankie McLaren are both quite good in the film, and there is splendid supporting bit parts from Richard Kind, Jay Mohr, Steve Schirripa (who is great in his small role), and Jenifer Lewis, each performance serving its purpose well. However, (my favorite supporting performance, and her scenes with Damon are the highlight, I think, of the film) Bryce Dallas Howard is excellent and her short appearance in the film brightens it up and makes it lively and interesting.

Hereafter has an interesting message and good performances; nevertheless is not a satisfying film experience, the narrative lacking a strong structure and focus. 6/10

Monday, October 25, 2010

Movie of the Week - Slither

This week’s movie is Slither (2006).

The horror-comedy is about a small town that is overrun by an alien plague, rendering its inhabitants monsters. Written and directed by James Gunn, the film blends scares and laughs creating a fun experience (Gunn also wrote the remake of Dawn of the Dead). Gunn uses Zack Snyder’s composer and production designer from Dawn of the Dead (Tyler Bates and Andrew Neskoromny respectively), while tapping TV cinematographer Gregory Middleton to shot the film. The cast is great with Nathan Fillion starring (and his fans are already adding this to their queues) and supporting work from Elizabeth Banks, Gregg Henry (who is also great in The Ritches) and Michael (The Rook) Rooker. What makes the film great is Gunn’s sense of humor mixed with the likes of Fillion, Banks and Henry. While the film is scary, it is more hilarious. It is a must for fans of horror-comedies. Check out the trailer.

Available on Blu-ray and DVD at and to rent from

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Underrated Actors – Movies Spotlight – October 2010

There are a lot of fantastic actors and actress working today. Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michelle Monaghan and Bill Nighy are among the best. Yet, even though we have seen them in a bunch of high profile films and providing fine performances, they still go without lots of recognition.

Chiwetel Ejiofor:

What You Know Him From:

Ejiofor got his start in Steven Spielberg’s Amistad, and has since appeared in lots of small budget films like Spike Lee’s She Hate Me and Woody Allen’s Melinda and Melinda. But he is has also been in a few big films too like Inside Man, Children of Men (I highly recommend this film), American Gangster, and this summer’s Salt. He is very good in Talk to Me, Kinky Boots and Four Brothers. Just looking at his filmography, a number of excellent films pop out.

Favorite Roles:

He is great in pretty much everything he is in (I would go far as to say he is one of the best working actors today), but these three performances are my favorite. In Stephen Frears’s Dirty Pretty Things he plays Okwe, an illegal immigrant in London running away from his past in Africa who gets pulled into the underworld by his shady Hotel Manager boss. Ejiofor won me over from the first minutes of the film and I have been a huge fan ever since. Okwe is strong yet scared and reflective – it is quite a performance to watch (he co-stars in the film with Audrey Tautou who is also quite good). Next he co-starred in Joss Whedon’s Serenity (the feature follow-up to the fantastic Firefly). He plays an assassin, who completely believes in the ideals of the majority controlling party, and is out to capture the fugitives. He is seemingly without emotion but terrifying, and in a film with wonderful characters he is a standout. He is also completely astounding in David Mamet’s Redbelt, playing a master MMA fighter who fully believes and practices the teachings of his mentor. He is forced into making tough life decisions when a series of events puts all around him into turmoil. Again, Ejiofor is amazing; he plays the role with such conviction that there is never any doubt that he is this man.

What He’ll be in Next:

Coming late this year of sometime next, Ejiofor will co-star in Tonight at Noon, directed by Michael Almereyda and starring Ethan Hawk, Rutger Hauer and Lauren Ambrose, about a group of New Yokers whose lives are redefines by random encounters with one and other. In 2011 he can be seen in the British BBC Two series crime drama The Shadow Line, which also stars Christopher Eccleston. He also has two films in preproduction: The Suffering a horror film about a death row inmate who escapes the chair only to battle creatures who take over the prison (based on the video game) and Three Way Split a drama about three friends who travel to Croatia to find a mutual lost friend so they can all attend the German Grand Prix together.

Career Highlights:

1.) Dirty Pretty Things (2002) – lead – (DVD/Rent)*
2.) Serenity (2005) – supporting – (Blu-ray/DVD/Rent)*
3.) Inside Man (2006) – supporting – (Blu-ray/DVD/Rent)
4.) Children of Men (2006) – supporting – (Blu-ray/DVD/Rent)*
5.) Redbelt (2008) – lead – (Blu-ray/DVD/Rent)
* Editor’s picks

Michelle Monaghan:

What You Know Her From:

Monaghan got her start on TV, notably on Boston Public. She also had small roles in a few well known films before getting her big break, including Winter Solstice, The Bourne Supremacy, Constantine, and Mr. & Mrs. Smith. She had large important supporting roles in North Country and Gone Baby Gone, before getting leads in the romantic comedies The Heartbreak Kid and Made of Honor. She has also done some action films like Eagle Eye.

Favorite Roles:

Monaghan brings a lot of fun and spirit to her roles, having an infectious personality but she also has heart and an empathic quality to her work. My favorite of her roles include her breakout performance in Shane Black’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. She plays Harmony, a Midwestern girl who comes out to Hollywood to be an actress only to be wrapped up in a murder mystery (co-starring Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer). She is brilliant in the film bringing life to her role and lighting up the screen. She is also great in J.J. Abrams’s Mission: Impossible III. In most action films, the girlfriend character does not have much to do and is just there to be there. This film is different. Monaghan is given action beats and she excels wonderfully. In Trucker (which she also executively produced), she has a chance to show what a good actress she is playing the challenging dramatic role of a truck driver whose 11-year-old son comes back into her life, having deserted him with his father ten years ago. The film has an extremely low budget, but Monaghan’s performance carries the film garnering her some awards consideration.

What She’ll be in Next:

She has two highly anticipated films coming out this year – next month’s Due Date, directed by The Hangover’s Todd Phillips and starring Downey Jr. and Zach Galifianakis, about a man that must travel cross-country to get to the birth of his child and Sophia Coppola’s new film Somewhere (scheduled for a December release) about a washed-up has-been actor who reconnects with his daughter. In 2011 she stars in another sci-fi film from director Duncan Jones entitled Source Code about a solider who wakes up in the body of another person. She also will star in Machine Gun Preacher about Sam Childers, a drug-dealer who reformed and found God and is now a crusader for Sudanese children who have been forced to become soldiers.

Career Highlights:

1.) Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005) – supporting – (Blu-ray/DVD/Rent)*
2.) Mission: Impossible III (2006) – supporting – (Blu-ray/DVD/Rent)*
3.) Gone Baby Gone (2007) – supporting – (Blu-ray/DVD/Rent)
4.) Trucker (2008) – lead – (DVD/Rent)
*Editor’s picks

Bill Nighy:

What You Know Him From:

Nighy has been in tons of British films and series, but is best known to American audiences for his role in the Pirates of the Caribbean films (Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End). He plays the vampire elder Viktor in Underworld and its sequels, has small, but awesomely comedic, roles in the Edgar Wright comedies Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz and a bit parts in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Pirate Radio. He has done more serious work too in films such as Enduring Love, The Girl in the Café, The Constant Gardner Valkyrie, and Notes on a Scandal, and is just as amazing in both comedic and dramatic roles. Finally, he has also lent his talent to kids’ films like G-Force, Astro Boy and Flushed Away.

Favorite Roles:

Nighy is a quirky actor who brings a strong persona to his work and really goes for it. My favorite of his performances starts with his work on the BBC series from David Yates (who also directed him in The Girl in the Café and next month’s Harry Potter film) State of Play. He co-stars as Cameron Foster (played by Helen Mirren in the American remake), editor of the newspaper that runs with the story involving murder and corruption within Britain’s political system. Nighy plays the role as powerful, but with flare and a touch of comradely. In Richard Curtis’s Love Actually, a film full of great actors, Nighy steals the show. The film serves (along with Underworld) as his breakthrough in America. He is completely out there and theatrical yet genuine – a star-making performance, in very limited screen time. In Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, we could not see it was Nighy, but we knew it was him right off due to his use of mannerisms and his usual flash, which allowed him to command the screen and bring a fully animated character to life practically abducting the film (a film mind you that also features Johnny Depp’s Oscar nominated Captain Jack Sparrow character). Anytime I see Nighy’s name attached to a film, I become giddy with anticipation for what fantastic character he will portray next.

What He’ll be in Next:

Nighy has two British films that may get theatrical releases in the States, but certainly should find their way on DVD: Glorious 39, a mysterious tale about a British family on the eve of WWII, and Wild Target, about a hitman (Nighy) who cannot kill his last mark, instead deciding to protect her (co-stars Rupert Grint and Emily Blunt, looks to be silly but fun). To finish up 2010, he is in an episode of Doctor Who and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (and he is in 2011’s Part 2). Also in 2011, he has a part in the comedy Chalet Girl, a snowboarding comedy/drama, and the animated film Rango from Gore Verbinski, followed in 2012 by The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel about a retirement home in Bangalore, India co-starring Judy Dench, Tom Wilkinson (who is another wonderful underrated actor), Julie Christie, and Maggie Smith.

Career Highlights:

1.) State of Play (2003) – supporting – (DVD/Rent)*
2.) Love Actually (2003) – supporting – (Blu-ray/DVD/Rent)
3.) Underworld (2003) – supporting – (Blu-ray/DVD/Rent)
4.) Shaun of the Dead (2004) – supporting – (Blu-ray/DVD/Rent)
5.) The Constant Gardener (2005) – supporting – (Blu-ray/DVD/Rent)
6.) Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006) – supporting – (Blu-ray/DVD/Rent)*
7.) Notes on a Scandal (2006) – supporting – (DVD/Rent)
*Editor’s picks

Monday, October 18, 2010

Movie of the Week - Blade Runner

This week’s movie is Blade Runner (1982).

The sci-fi film is about a detective, Deckard, who is tasked with hunting down and killing four replicants who hijacked a ship in space and snuck back onto Earth to find their maker. Director Ridley Scott does masterwork on the film (his third feature); the mise en scene and atmosphere are fantastic (it is even better, I think, than his other sci-fi film Alien). The production design by Lawrence G. Paul and cinematography by Jordan Cronenweth are simply beautiful, capturing the film noir tone to the film set in the dismal dystopian future of 2019 Los Angeles. The lighting and how it plays within the sets is one of the best aspects of the film, visually. Vangelis also provides a pitch perfect score. Harrison Ford stars playing the role as a beaten down and more depressed version of Han Solo. Rutger Hauer is amazing in the film, heartbreaking and scary (his performance elevates the final scenes making the film the masterpiece that it is). Sean Young, Edward James Olmos, Daryl Hannah, and William Sanderson also provide good supporting work. What makes the film great is that it is a film noir hard boiled detective piece (for the most part) but set in the future (and aspects of the film clearly have influences sci-fi ever since, like Firefly). Aesthetically, it is magnificent. It is gritty and rundown, yet there are flying cars and seemingly high tech equipment (though today it looks pretty ghetto). The lighting and set design is something we just do not see anymore in modern film, which is a shame. The film is a must see for sci-fi fans, film noir fans and those looking to see the masterworks of canonized film (Note: watch the director’s cut). Check out the trailer.

Blade Runner is available on Blu-ray and DVD at and to rent at 

Friday, October 15, 2010

Chiddy Bang – The Preview EP (2010) – Review

Chiddy Bang’s new EP The Preview features three songs off their The Swelly Express Mixtape and five new songs (six if you also get the iTunes bonus track – I hate iTunes). Originally, their debut album The Swelly Life was scheduled for release this Fall, but then pushed back to early 2011. Thus, this EP was released to give fans a taste of what is to come. The EP only has one featured guest, Q-Tip, and one other producer, Pharrell, than group member Xaphoon Jones. It is nice to see the group stand on their own again for their second released EP (the first having a couple of the same songs).

The group is comprised of MC Chiddy and producer Xaphoon Jones – who perfectly complement each other, Jones providing hip culturally chic beats and Chiddy delivering fun lyrics infused both with pop references and personal emotion and reflection. The EP is a good example of what this group brings to hip hop. A fresh sound that melds pop, post rock, electro, and hip hop forming sort of a poppy hip hop that appeals to both fans of the backpack movement and more classic hip hop (and it helps with you have Q-Tip on the EP and Black Thought on your Mixtape).

The EP starts off with their new single The Good Life, which is co-produced by Jones and Pharrell each bringing a little of their sound to the music. The song has more of a radio-friendly feel to it than most of the group’s work, but they need a few singles to move units and get them out there. Currently, they have more of an internet following and they tour continuously. (Skipping the already released songs Truth and The Opposite of Adults) next up is Here We Go featuring Q-Tip. The song is very addictive and has a great hook. Xaphoon Jones’s beats are generally great, but here he outdoes himself. It mixes an electro sound with Chiddy’s fast rhymes. (Then there is another previously released song All Things Go) followed by Nothing On We, with a classic hip hop beat – snares and drums with some piano and organ underneath. The song has a good message about making it, not about money and woman but achieving dreams. Bad Day sampling from Darwin Deez is a fun heartbreak song. Chiddy Bang generally stays upbeat sonically, so it is cool to hear a song more about deeper emotions. The sample makes for another great hook as well. Old Ways finished the EP. It starts out a bit like a street banger, but when the synth comes in it is clear that it is just another great Jones track.

The EP does not have a weak track on it; each song has an interesting and different beat, though within the group’s style. Chiddy’s lyrics are also very good – fun, heartfelt and full of relevance. For those that do not know about this group, this is well worth checking out. 3/5

Chiddy Bang’s The Preview Ep is available for digital download at and on CD.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Stars to Watch: Part 2 – Movies Spotlight – October 2010

Cinema constantly has new talent each and every year, making good films and opening audiences’ eyes to new characters, stories and worlds. Six such newcomers in particular are having a breakthrough year – Chloe Grace Moretz, Andrew Garfield, Rooney Mara (Part 1), Emma Roberts, Aaron Johnson, and Gemma Arterton (Part 2), each with a new film coming out in October.

Emma Roberts:

What She’s Been In:

Roberts, 19, became enthralled in the movie business from a young age, practically growing up on the film sets of her aunt Julia Roberts and father Eric Roberts. Thus, she decided at the age of five to be an actress and made her debut in 2001 at the age of nine in Blow as the daughter of the drug dealing protagonist played by Johnny Depp. She was also an un-credited extra in America’s Sweethearts, which her aunt Julia starred in. She had small roles in a few other films and TV series before landing her first major role as Addie Singer on the Nickelodeon TV series Unfabulous (I say major because she was cast as the series lead and the show aired for four seasons). In 2006 she got her first lead role in a feature film, Aquamarine, which finally got her exposure as a potential teen star, but also pigeon-holed her a bit for teen and pre-teen films (what are essential “B” movies for young girls), like: Nancy Drew, Wild Child and Hotel for Dogs. She also appeared in the ensemble 2010 film Valentine’s Day.


While making films like Nancy Drew is fine, to grow as an actress Roberts needed to take on tougher roles in more interesting films. She got a part in the indy film Lymelife in 2008, which did well that year at the Toronto Film Festival. Roberts suddenly found herself as an in demand actress of indy films. She took on roles in five indy films, highlighted by James C. Strouse’s The Winning Season about a has-been coach who is given a shot at redemption when he is asked to run a local girl’s basketball team – she stars opposite Sam Rockwell. Her teen films may have got her name and face out to more movie-goers, but her work in these indy films has her name and face circulating among producers and directors (which really is more important) and industry people see all the films including two of her better indies that only got a very limited release: the very positively reviewed Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac which she stars with Anton Yelchin and Oscar winning writer Dustin Lance Black’s directorial debut What’s Wrong with Virginia.

October Film:

However, this month’s film It’s Kind of a Funny Story will likely serve as her real breakthrough for cinema-goers (and I say cinema, as it is more of an indy film than a Hollywood blockbuster). The film has been receiving lots of positive buzz out of the festival circuit and critics are singling out her performance as one of the best aspects of the film. It is directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (who are adored by indy film critics), and is about a depressed teenager looking for a new start by checking himself into an adult psych-ward. Roberts plays another patient (and Zach Galifianakis is in it too, just in case you needed one more reason to see it).


In 2011 Roberts has two new films scheduled for release (and maybe a few of her 2010 indy films will get some wider distribution). First she has a smaller film, Homework, about a solitary high school student who comes out of his shell once he strikes up a friendship with a girl he has like for a long time. She co-stars with Freddie Highmore. Then, she has the co-lead in the Wes Craven’s ensemble horror series Scream 4, which will be her second high profile ensemble film. Hopefully, her performance, which is great, in It’s Kind of a Funny Story will garner her good roles in the future, as she certainly has the potential to be an “A-list” star in Hollywood.

Career Highlights:

1.) Lymelife (2008)  supporting [Blu-ray/DVD/Rent] 
2.) The Winning Season (2010)  lead* [DVD/Rent]
3.) Twelve (2010) – supporting [Blu-ray/DVD/Rent]
4.) It's Kind of a Funny Story (2010) – supporting [Blu-ray/DVD/Rent]
*Editor's Picks

Aaron Johnson:

What He’s Been In:

Johnson, 20, started his career at age six acting on the stage opposite Rufus Sewell in Macbeth (The Scottish Play). After a few plays he switched his focus to film, debuting in the family film Tom & Thomas. He also had roles in a number of British TV series and TV movies as well as small bit parts in American films including Shanghai Knights and The Illusionist. In 2007, he got more notoriety in the U.K. getting starring roles on the TV series Talk to Me and Nearly Famous, which in turn lead to parts in the British films Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging and Dummy and small parts in American films The Greatest and Temple Grandin (off topic, but this film is great and Claire Dane’s performance in it is probably going to be the best of 2010). He was ready for a breakthrough role in the U.K.


That film for Johnson was Nowhere Boy (released in the U.K. in 2009, and released in the states this month, more below). His breakthrough in America came with the release of Kick-Ass, in which he plays the title character. The film directed by Matthew Vaughn made Johnson’s face instantly recognizable to fans across the country (though it was Chloe Grace Moretz who stole the show). The film not only made him a star (at least with fanboys and fangirls) but also set him up to have a viable film franchise in American.

October Film:

While it came out last year in the U.K., Nowhere Boy is ready to be a hit this month in America after success both in its initial release across the pond and on the festival circuit. Johnson plays a young John Lennon as he grows up, gets into music and eventually co-founds The Beatles (sounds like a dream role right). The film has loads of positive buzz behind it and should solidify Johnson as one of the marquee young actors.


Up next, Johnson has two thrillers: one by Hideo Nakata (director of Ringu) called Chatroom, in which a group of teenagers drive each other’s bad behavior to new levels, and the other about a new cell phone that brings with it bad luck to whomever comes in procession of it, aptly named The Phone (and yes, I too agree that these both sound pretty awful). And then in 2012, he stars in Kick-Ass 2: Balls to the Wall (which presumably will be as awesome as the first). There is no doubt that after Kick-Ass and Nowhere Boy, he will be in high demand in Hollywood.

Career Highlights:

1.) Kick-Ass (2010) – lead* [Blu-ray/DVD/Rent]
2.) Nowhere Boy (2010) – lead* [Blu-ray/DVD/Rent]
*Editor’s picks

Gemma Arterton:

What She’s Been In:

Arterton, 24, got her start in the 2007 British TV movie Capturing Mary while she was still in drama school. She also won the role of Rosaline in Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost at the Globe Theatre in London that year before graduating. She made her feature film debut in the boarding school comedy St. Trinian’s (which basically resembles a bad American college comedy). She also got a small bit part in Guy Ritchie’s RocknRolla, though her mini-breakthrough came with the lead in the critically acclaimed BBC miniseries Tess of the D’Urbervilles and as a Bond Girl in Quantum of Solace. Building upon her growing status as a budding star in British cinema, she took a small but memorable role in the ensemble comedy Pirate Radio and starred in the good thriller The Disappearance of Alice Creed – starring or featuring in seven TV series/miniseries and films in about two years primed her to have a huge year in 2010.


And a huge year she has had – starring in two blockbusters. She first starred in the remake Clash of the Titans. The film was not too great, and the script was certainly not kind to her character, but she came through untarnished and with loads of recognition by American audiences. Much the same can be said for her second big film of the year Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (though this was met with a much more positive reception by the general movie-going audience than me). Regardless of whether the films were good, they both were huge successes for Arterton as she is now an “it girl” in America.

October Film:

Probably directly due to her being in the two blockbusters from earlier in the year (and also the director is notable for American audiences, well those that follow film more than a little bit), her new British film Tamara Drewe is getting distribution in the states. Arterton plays the lead in the film about a young newspaper writer who returns to her hometown to prepare her childhood home for sale following the death of her mother. The film is directed by Stephen Frears (who sometimes makes really good films) and has received good to ok reviews in England. But the success of this small film in American is not relevant to Arterton’s status in the states; she is here and in vogue.


Arterton has secured another good project for herself with London Fields, a film about a psychic who has a vision and feels compelled to visit a London dive bar where she encounters two men; one of them might be her killer. The film is to be directed by Michael Winterbottom (who has made a few excellent films) based on a script by David Cronenberg (whose fans know his stuff is out there). Then two other tentative projects before 2012’s Clash of the Titans 2 (which we of course need, utterly).

Career Highlights:

1.) Tess of the D’Urbervilles (2008)* – lead [DVD/Rent]
2.) Quantum of Solace (2008) – supporting [Blu-ray/DVD/Rent]
3.) Pirate Radio (2009) – supporting [Blu-ray/DVD/Rent]
*Editor’s picks

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Never Let Me Go (2010) – Review

Never Let Me Go is haunting, heartbreaking and seemingly against human instinct, and yet upon deeper reflection illuminates a truth about humanity – none of us has enough time, so we should make the best of it (which is much more poetically done in the film, versus the cliché I just wrote). While the film does have sci-fi overtones, director Mark Romanek and screenwriter Alex Garland do not try to warp their story into a sci-fi thriller (something that very easily could have been done, and something I suspect some audiences were hoping for), rather they are interested solely in their characters and their specific narrative, which benefits the film. Romanek made a very subtle film in that nothing is exaggerated or flamboyant – the look of the film and performances are restrained, the visuals are more and more dismal tonally as the film progresses as the characters come to terms with their stations in life. Though, despite the bleak tone that the film has, there is a beautiful quality to the visuals and the simplistic nature of the characters. They are to an extent completely innocent, though somewhat corrupted by the agenda of the outside world. They are raised in a utopian controlled society (though I would call it dystopian given the full narrative), groomed for a specific purpose only, one that is utterly horrific (the absolute disregard of the outside world for these people is best shown in Ruth’s last scene, they are considered soulless) and foreign to us, but they accept it and even take pride in it as noble work. A common reaction is why do they not try to escape, but they know nothing else. Sure, some very well may try to flee (as chaos is always evident even in the most controlled system), but that is a different story. We (and seemingly especially Americans) want to take charge and influence the outcome of our lives, rebel in a sense, which is why Kathy and Tommy’s acceptance is hard to swallow. But really, it is no different than what we do everyday. We make do with what we have. We often accept our circumstances. And in many cases, it is out of our hands, and even so we still find meaning and take pride in our work and lives. At its heart, this is a love story and about friendship. It is clear, even as children, that Kathy and Tommy should be together. But life gets in the way, as it often does for all of us. The little time they do get is a reminder to the viewer to take stock of what they have and what they want. Notwithstanding the sad tonality of the film, messages of love, friendship and redemption resonate deeper and have a lasting impact on the audience. The film is very powerful, as it stays with the viewer long after the credits role. Though as beautiful and engaging as the film is, it is not for everyone. Being more concerned with the characters’ emotions, thoughts and experiences, leaving the outside world to the imagination, the film does not have much action (leaving action seekers to feel bored). It is built on a structure of three times that these characters interacted. The audience sees the transition of the relationship of the characters, but again the film is not superficially over dramatic (as is the case in many Hollywood films), it is subtle, nothing is telegraphed, the viewer empathizes with the characters (especially Kathy) based on emotions the film evokes in the viewer organically (aka, the score does not exaggerate the drama, and the narrative does not explicitly pull on the audiences’ heartstrings for a artificial influenced reaction). Yet, the delicate approach that Garland and Romanek take can be lost on some viewers (specifically those not inclined for this type of film). Never Let Me Go may be a film full of sorrow, even shockingly grim, but underneath the narrative speaks to themes of love, loyalty, redemption, and the lasting message of seize the day, make the most out of your life and try to be happy.

Technical achievements: director Romanek and writer Garland have made an exceptional film based on what was commonly referred to as an un-filmable novel by Kazuo Ishiguro. The script and direction are sparse in that they only gives the viewer the essential pieces and do not linger – something that is quite difficult to do well. Romanek and Garland took the novel and adapted it to tell their particular story and did not try to recreate everything in the book or be overly ambitious with their narrative focus – things that often make for not so great film based on good novels. The film, while being a take on the novel, is its own entity, completely separate and should be viewed that way. Romanek also succeeded greatly in putting together his cast and crew as they are all phenomenal in their work. Production designer Mark Digby does a wonderful job of both portraying the coldness of the outside world (Kathy’s apartment is so barren and sad), but also capturing the warmth of the characters. Cinematographer Adam Kimmel does standout work on the film. His photography is a treat and stunning. The score by Rachel Portman is also exceedingly good. She is able to deliver music that captivates the audience. The cast of the film is first-rate. The adult actors have small roles in the film, as the narrative is almost completely exclusive to Tommy, Ruth and Kathy, but Charlotte Rampling, Sally Hawkins and Nathalie Richard are all quite good. The film also features child actors, who needed to be just as good as their older counterparts for the narrative to fully resonate. Romanek is able to get very good performances from his young actors with the standout being the work of Izzy Meikle-Small. She is able to do the heavy emotional lifting effortlessly. The film’s three main stars are fantastic. Carey Mulligan and Keira Knightley are both very good, but Andrew Garfield is amazing. He is so hopeful and innocent that his seems to be the most tragic of the three.

Never Let Me Go is an aesthetically magnificent film, full of great performances, but it is not a film for everyone, exploring the end message of live life to the fullest through a heartbreaking story of love and friendship. 9/10

Monday, October 11, 2010

It’s Kind of a Funny Story (2010) – Review

It’s Kind of a Funny Story is like its name – funny, but with more serious (sort of) overtones. The story focuses on a teen who cannot seem to cope with life and has suicidal thoughts – thus he goes into a psychiatric center for a quick solution and ends up being held for five days for observation (the minimum requirement). Writer-director team Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck use the psych floor of the hospital as sort of a mini universe for this character, Craig – he learns about himself, grows up, makes friends, meets a girl – all the stuff he would be doing anyway, but this setting provides a more concentrated and controlled environment. For example, the teen psych area is being renovated so all the teens are mixed with the adults – yet Craig and Noel (his romantic interest) seem to be the only two teens. There are no real serious issues, no danger, everything is glossed over with sort of a sugarcoating, as if this film is like a PG version of an R rated story (the film is rated PG-13). Sure, suicide and other psychiatric problems are discussed and apparent, but they are sort of shuffled off as merely background and there is never a sense of the gravity of these issues – almost as if it is no big deal and this is a cool place to hang out. The character of Bobby is really the only one to actually have a darker undertone. He is funny and charismatic on the outside, but there is something sad and heartbreaking about him to the point where the audience is not sure whether he will be ok or not. With Craig, there is never any question. The story is far too lighthearted for the viewer to even fear an unhappy ending or even anything but a happy ending. Plus, Craig does not seem like he is even that damaged. He is just a regular kid, facing the same fears as everyone else. The film probably could have benefitted from being more of a drama than a comedy. The story is really a coming-of-age narrative told in a unique way – in a psych ward, with archetypes like father, mother and friends (life-knowledge providers) substituted for patients, counselors and doctors. And despite there being no danger in the story, Boden and Fleck do a great job with the character’s journey. Really, the psychiatric hospital is just the backdrop, it could be anything – it does not influence the story dramatically. Watching Craig come out of his shell and succeed is the most rewarding experience of the film, and like all coming-of-age stories there is a nostalgic aspect to the emotional experiences that resonates with audience members older than their teens, creating a bond through shared (but different) knowledge garnered though growing up. Boden and Fleck seem to also want their film to have sort of an indy quirkiness to it, evidenced by some of the odd and innovative techniques used in the narrative. The music over drawings coming to life is distracting and not really structurally needed given other scenes that better portray Craig realizing what he loves to do and what is important to him. If anything, the scene takes the audience out of the film, which is never a good thing. It is random as the narrative has not set up the world to include animation and it is not a reoccurring element and thus is not necessary and seems to only forward a bid at some sort of cool weirdness. However, they also use still images in areas to tell the story. This technique works quite well with the voiceover narration. Still images sometimes better capture emotion than continuous images, as they focus singularly on an emotion which then allows the audience to linger on that sense emotion having a deeper impact. The use of brief and poignant flashbacks is also well done in the film, while some of the cut scenes revealing what some of the patients did to get themselves into the psych ward is like the animation scene, distracting and unneeded. It’s Kind of a Funny Story is different in its setting, but sort of the same in its storytelling – yet it works, despite some narrative issues, in telling an engaging and enjoyable story (one in which no one seems to get hurt, unlike real life).

Technical achievements: writer-directors Boden and Fleck now have three good feature films. Though, this film feels like their least ambitious. However, they do craft characters and scenarios that make for good entertainment and engage the audience emotionally, and despite the film being soft on the real issues it is still probably their most amusing film to date. They have used the same cinematographer and production designer for all three of their features – here, DP Andrij Parekh uses focus and extreme close-ups to dictate what the viewer should be paying attention to, as the background in many shots is out of focus favoring attention for the main characters of the scene, adding to this, the design work of Beth Mickle works well as her sets are sparse, again directing the focus on the characters. As the film is wholly about the characters, these aesthetic choices work well. Broken Social Scene’s score is adequate, but more than often just feels like a collection of “cool” indy rock songs instead of composition that emotes in connection with what is happening on the screen. The cast is what makes the film good. Jim Gaffigan, Adrian Martinez and Matthew Maher provide some good comedic stuff in limited screen time. Viola Davis is also quite good, despite her small role, serving as the de facto mother figure. Emma Roberts has what seems to be a scaled down role, but makes the most of it, as she lights up her scenes but also harbors some deeper emotional turmoil (which sadly, like a lot of the real emotion in the film, is never addressed). Lead, Keir Gilchrist, is difficult to pin down performance wise. He seems to be too easygoing and lighthearted for someone with suicidal thoughts, and he does not convey deeper emotions well. But, he is quite good as the film shifts to when he is coping and growing. The film, however, belongs to Zach Galifianakis, who is featured in a slightly more than a supporting role. He is brilliant – hysterical and utterly tragic (evoking Bill Murray’s sad clown persona a bit). While the narrative of the film seems a bit too easy, the performances more than make up for it and work well in the narrative resulting in a fun film to watch.

It’s Kind of a Funny Story works as a coming-of-age story, highlighted by strong performances from the main characters, but it is lacking in honest emotional weight. 7/10