Entries tagged with “American cinema”.


The movies of are hard to compare or include in a category. Maybe they should be declared a genre of their own. Dogtooth or The Lobster provided dystopian perspectives of family and love.  With ‘The Killing of a Sacred Deer‘ it looks that he made steps ahead. Both in assimilating and processing myths and social relations, but also in creating a disturbing atmosphere. This is a disturbing film from many points of view. Because or despite of it it forwards a strong message that makes the film impossible to forget.

 

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5715874

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5715874

 

The story starts as a medical drama. The successful surgeon dr. Murphy () has it all – a beautiful wife (), two manageable kids, and some kind of a tutoring relation with another teenager of lower social condition which he may lead to becoming a surgeon as well. Yet, the apparent solid fabric of his life is slowly deteriorating as the kid friend starts showing signs of becoming somebody different, who shares dark secrets and has reasons to punish or even destroy his life. The film slowly slides into horror, fantastic, myth. It ends in a very different place from the one it started. It’s shocking and frightening.

 

(video source A24)

 

The art of combines the fluent story telling with the mastering of the different genres, but his roots are deeper, as the hints to Greek mythology that is included in the title. He also makes no effort to avoid controversy of break taboos. It’s not easy viewing, but it’s impossible to get out of the mind if you immersed in his world. Strongly recommended.

 

Director has built a name of herself clearly distinct from the one of her illustrious father by describing the world of women, their fears and tragedies, their anxieties and ambiguities, their relation with the world of men and the results (in many cases tragic) of the clash of cultures between Venus and Mars. I expect any of her movies, wherever and whenever the story is set, to deal with these themes. The Beguiled is not exception to the rule, it even goes farther and digs deeper then her previous films.

 

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5592248

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5592248

 

The movie is based on a novel by Thomas Cullinan which was already brought to screen in 1971 by with a cast that included and However, it’s not a remake but rather a different interpretation of the story, told from the point of view of the community of women gathered in a school for Southern girls in Virginia by the end of the Civil War, who save the life of a wounded Yankee soldier they find in the wood near the premises of the school. The whole story builds around the mixed feelings of distrust and human compassion, desire and sexual awakening, social and cultural differences between the wounded soldier () on one side, and the school principal (), her assistant () and the other girls on the other side. That was time of war and that was a war that changed America, in which social and class taboos were broken. The characters came to revelations not only about the nature of the enemy but also and most of all about themselves.

 

(video source Focus Features)

 

I liked the way the story was told and the characters developed, with the exception of the character played by who is supposed to play a key role in the change of pace and perspective in the middle of the action, but offers few arguments excepting her age and appearance. All the other actors – , , and especially give fine performances. Dunst especially grows into a fine actor undertaking more complex roles. The story building is carefully supported by actors work, by the sets (the mansion that hosts the school, the woods around with the nature threatening to take over the building same as the realities of the war threaten the close universe of the girls school), the background sounds of the war. The characters keep a useful dose of mystery for themselves, none of them is a saint or a full devil. They are human in extreme conditions, war made them political enemies, nature made them enemies in the war of sexes, but they find out that the enemy is not what they believed – for the good and for the worse. This story of reprieved passion that turns into historic thriller and horror works well under Coppola’s screen direction. Do we still need to remind which of the Coppolas?

Director returns in his 2013 production of The Immigrant to one of his recurrent themes – the one that made him known in the first long feature film he made Little Odessa – immigration, and to his preferred background which features also in his debut but also in the more recent Two Lovers – New York. Actually his other well known feature film We Own the Night was not located too remotely as well. In all his last film we also enjoy the presence of , an actor that I highly appreciate. We can already speak about a cluster of works happening more or less in the same milieu, with a team of actors and a style of story telling that make it consistent. Not necessarily successful – to my taste at least.

 

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1951181/

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1951181/

 

This story of two sisters arriving in New York in the 1920s, and their fight to remain in the New Promised Land and survive by all means could have been made in 1930, or 1960, or 1990. It would have looked a little different as technical means differ, but otherwise not too much seems to have changed. The 2013 version adds too little from an emotional point of view to really make a true impact. Neither does the passionate and tragic love story between the pimp and the new innocent immigrant look too true. It starts as a story of mutual destruction, it continues as a tragic love triangle, it ends by destroying the charmer and the harmer in a too much expected way.

 

(video source Movieclips Trailers)

 

If there is one actress who can play wonderfully melodrama today on screens, this is . She does exactly what is expected, and so does . This is not enough. Director knows how to tell a story on screen, but his style must overcome the cliches in order to free the good director we guess he is. Chaplin’s film with the same name  made almost 100 years ago still remains a stake of value hard to exceed.

 

There are a few, very few things one can rely on happening every year, since the 1990s. First there is a Christmas – and yes, also a Passover – taking place each year. Then, there is the Woody Allen film which is usually released late spring, usually in time for the Cannes festival. The film will be loved by some, hated by other, opinions are always divided. What is as sure as Christmas or Passover happening each year is that the Woody Allen film will not get the Academy Award for the best film or for directing. This is true also in 2016.

 

source www.imdb.com/title/tt4513674/

source www.imdb.com/title/tt4513674/

 

The yearly production of Woody Allen for 2016 is out. It is called ‘Cafe Society’ and the story happens in the LA and NYC of the 30s. Young New Yorker Bobby Dorfman lands in Hollywood where the brother of his very Jewish mother is a big film actors agent with even a bigger mouth and marriage of 25 years which he is on the verge of breaking up. The innocent kid soon meets the girl of his dreams who happens to be not available because … I will stop here to avoid any spoiler, but I would just mention that the whole story is sweet and conventional, full of humor with more or less expected twists, with a nostalgic approach in describing the movie world of the West Coast and the night-clubs scene of New York in the 30s and the Jewish family gathering almost all the stereotypes one expects and loves: the Jewish mother and the unsuccessful father, the womanizing uncle, the Jewish mobster son, and the lefty intellectual son-in-law. Over all this a delicate love story about two people who meet and fall in love, give up to the social conventions and to the accepted criteria of happiness, but deep in their souls cannot be happy, because happiness is what we feel and not what society decides it is. All on superb, nostalgic jazz music in the background taking the front in a couple of key scenes.

 

(video source Movieclips Trailers)

 

To some extend the  who made this film resembles the heroes of this last film. It’s a less daring endeavor than some of the other films that he made in his 70s, for example Midnight in Paris and Blue Jasmine. This is his first film in his 80s, and is a little different, more in a minor tone, with characters, background and themes that do not surprise or even try to surprise. A new stage in his career? ‘Cafe Society’ seems rather straight forward, but it actually succeeds in creating genuine emotion. Many good actors dream to appear in Allen’s movies, this time it’s the turn of , and to deliver fine performances. Woody’s voice as a narrator is the only direct personal touch of a film maker that was accused by his detractors so many times to write and direct movies that are too much about himself. With Cafe Society he succeeded not only to make a film about other people’s life stories but also to make us care about them.

 

There is a magic about the number ‘seven’ in cinema among other places. Some say it started with Snow White, other will mention Kurosawa. Fact is that many successful films used this magic and succeeded, some of them succeeded great. So when we get this number in the title, when we see on the poster a cast that would make any blockbuster in Hollywood, and when we know that the script and directing belongs to the exquisite drama writer whose appearances as a film maker are scarce but special, and whose previous film In Bruges was smart and funny, the expectations for Seven Psychopaths run high.

 

source www.imdb.com/title/tt1931533/

source www.imdb.com/title/tt1931533/

 

What we get is a ‘film in film’ formula of a special kind. A scriptwriter in Hollywood seeks inspiration for his next film in stories about psychopaths. He starts collecting them, and the stories start happening around him. His best friend is building a revenue stream from kidnapping dogs and returning them to their owners for happy dog reunion awards. Murders and horrors multiply in the script and around, and the border between real and fiction is never clear. The formula is not completely new, Hollywood loves stories about Hollywood, and screen heroes have more than once crossed the line of separation between screens and viewing halls (Woody Allen, Charlie Kaufman, etc.). The tone here is crazy, with reverence to the older and newer horror movies, but also to Tarantino.

 

(video source Movieclips Trailers)

 

The execution is less fun that it could be. is a smart script writer, but as a director he seems to be too much in love with his own script. Something is missing, maybe the cynical look or the extremes that make Tarantino’s violence on screen entertainment. Out of the good cast I especially liked the performance of , while , , and deliver as expected. Overall ‘Seven Psychopats’ makes true only part of the promises of number 7.

 

War Dogs‘ is the second movie ‘inspired by a true story’ that I have seen in the last 24 hours, and is actually the one that I liked better (the other one being ‘The Infiltrator’). Its film-making style (director ) and its comic thriller approach fit well the month of August. If I am to chose one easier entertainment with no super-heroes or space-ships, and yet a film that raises serious issues this summer, I will recommend it (but of course, I did not see them all).

 

source www.imdb.com/title/tt2005151/

source www.imdb.com/title/tt2005151/

 

I am not sure if ‘War Dogs’ will make it to too many Jewish film festivals, but the two lead characters are Jewish or better say one nice Jewish kid (acted by ) and a one Jewish trouble-maker kid (acted by ) who meet about one year after high-school. The bad guy is already in weapons trade and he easily convinces the good guy to become an associate. It’s the Bush-Cheney period, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan need arms, and the government seems to have privatized at least part of the guns and ammo supply chain and opened it to free competition. A golden business opportunity for many, including the couple of young entrepreneurs who start small, win bigger and bigger contracts, break more and more moral rules, laws and trade restrictions, move into bigger offices and houses, and ask themselves less and less questions about what is right and what is wrong to do in such business.

 

(video source Movieclips Trailers)

 

The film is fun to watch. There is no great characters development, the characters are from the start to the end what they seem to be when they show up for the first time, but they are enjoyable, and at least does here his best role on screen to date. also shows up in a small but key supporting role. Story telling has pace and humor, although I could have given up the off-screen story telling which tries to provide the personal and somehow moralizing perspective of the good guy. It seems to be a returning fashion in the American cinema which I frankly dislike. It usually hides lack of skills in setting the contest and telling the story, but it was not the case here.

It’s the final titles before the credits, the one that usually relate the characters on screen with the reality of the ‘true story’ and show the real faces of the ‘heroes’ that we have seen acted on screen, that made me click. So these guys, who sold lethal weapons that caused death in the battlefields of Iraq or Afghanistan, who tricked the government and the individuals fighting for what they believe is a just cause got a few years in jail (one of them) and a suspended sentence (the other one) and they are now selling their story in books and movies? Something is broken in our justice systems if the ‘war dogs’ selling illegal weapons to the conflict areas are not punished. This film is not a masterpiece, but at least it causes to some of us to ask the right questions.

I could not avoid borrowing the qualifications used by a Web site from Toronto when writing about this film. It’s ‘boring and watchable’. An unusual combination indeed. And yet, this is exactly how I feel about ‘The Infiltrator’ directed by – a talented director who succeeded much better IMO with The Lincoln Lawyer.

 

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1355631/

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1355631/

 

I must also confess from the start that I am not a fan of the ‘true crime’ genre. Reality has the disadvantage of being in many cases confusing, and bringing it to screen demands a level of processing that elevates it above what we – as spectators – live in our daily lives. After all we do not pay the price of the ticket to live inside the cinema theaters the same lives as we do in the fresh air outside. Script writers and directors approaching the genre face the dilemma of either sticking to the truth of the story (and risk to be drown in the details) or of ‘dramatizing’ the reality to make it better fit to screen (and risk losing credibility). Succeeding is not only an exercise in balance but also requires the art of finding the artistic truth that makes the film valuable and attractive for viewers beyond the documentary news.

The element that makes ‘The Infiltrator’ different is the building of the relationship between anti-drug cop Robert Mazur () and the drug dealers and the bankers that financed the business in the crime organization that he infiltrated in the 80s playing the role of a money launderer. There is tension in the building of the undercover team and the way they gain the trust of the lethally criminals they deal with, but the difference is really the fact that Mazur not only starts living as the character he poses as, but also seems to develop feelings of real sympathy (if not friendship) towards his enemies-in-law.

 

(video source Movieclips Trailers)

 

The result is to some extent convincing, but it takes a long way to get to it, almost the totality of the two hours film. The rest of the time is spent into telling a cops vs. drug dealers story that is not too original and not too different from so many other stories we have already seen on screen. The inflation of real life characters brought too screen because they were around in the real story, but not really living a screen life of their own makes much of the introduction part, and much of what happens next confusing.  is OK in his role, but an actor with more charisma could have made the character more interesting. The best acting in the film came from , an actor I have seen in many supporting roles, and I am glad to see that he gets near more consistent roles towards a lead role in the future that he certainly deserves.

The Infiltrator is not the big crime film ‘inspired by a true story’ that I am waiting for.

Joel Edgerton is not a completely anonymous actor, but not a big star either. We know his face from a few supporting roles in a number of movies, but none of them really made it to the Academy Awards. This makes even more remarkable the fact that with The Gift he is completely in control. The resulting movie is packaged as a psychological thriller set in that part of California populated with apparently happy couples or families enjoying the good life ensured by their success of their corporate careers. Yet, not everybody succeeded as well, and happy facades can hide unhappy relations and dark secrets surfacing from the past.

 

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4178092/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4178092/

 

A game is played during all this film between the director-script author and the viewers. It starts like a yuppies-go-to-California film, and a seemingly incidental encounter between the successful Simon (played by ) and a former school colleague called Gordo () who does not seem to have done that well. A feeling of un-easiness starts to install in a very subtle manner. It’s not only what happens on screen (although the visits and the small gifts and favors made to Simon and to his attractive but fragile wife Robyn () start to look more and more like stalking, but also the simple dialogs of the couples seem to indicate that not all is pink and bright in paradise. As the story continues we start to discover more details about the past, the angle and judgment on the characters changes, and the feeling of uneasiness increases. To put it in one of the words used by Simon to describe his ex-colleague – weirdo!

 

(video source Movieclips Trailers)

 

Actors directors are said not to be too successful in directing themselves, but Joel Edgerton is the exception. He is actually the best designed character in a triangle in which all three actors play crisply defined characters, which succeed to be true even as the perspective and the judgment of the viewers about them changes. Hitchcock is the obvious source of inspiration for the movies in this genre, and if Rebecca Hall was a blonde she would have made a perfect Hitchcockian character (Edgerton cannot even avoid filming not one but two shower scenes).

There is not much violence on screen, certainly not on the scale of the 2015 violence in movies, but the feeling of terror is present almost all the time, and its remarkable that it results from psychology rather than from effects. The ending is somehow disappointing in its making, but it includes enough dose of macabre and weirdness and it’s open enough to let us wonder what really happened. ‘The Gift’ is not easy or pleasant viewing, but it gives enough reasons of satisfaction to be worth spending the time with it.

 

Here is one action movie that succeeds in a very original manner to say more about the America of today (or of a few years ago) than many other ‘serious’, ‘social’, ‘politically-engaged’ film. It does it so in a very Tarantinesque manner, but it’s Tarantino violent and milieu films with a twist. Or more than a twist.

 

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1764234/

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1764234/

 

Apparently director Andrew Dominik made just another gangster story. We can locate exactly when it takes place, as the soundtrack mixes music with speeches from the final weeks of the 2008 presidential campaign. A couple of low level losers gangsters rob an illegal poker house, which is owned by the mob. The reprisals will not be late into showing up because crime is a business and there are several levels this business is operated. One of the greatest qualities of this film is to catch the characters that populate the different layers of the crime industry and bring them to screen (with the help of a well selected and directed cast) in a very credible manner – from the drug-addicted burglars in rags to the smooth business-like manipulators at the higher levels who do not look too different from the corporate America managers, certainly not when they sip their Martinis.

 

(video source joblomovienetwork)

 

This is maybe the last great role of James Gandolfini (I did not see yet ‘Zero Dark Thirty’) and he has a couple of poignant scenes with Brad Pitt, fighting overweight, bad health and a feeling of mid-life lack of achievement which may stay as one of the last memories we are left from him. We will also be left with the memory of the final replica which puts the story in the context of a country which is run as a violent and uncompromising business. Certainly just one of the meanings of America today.

 

 

Everything is clear from the first to the last of the shots (and there are many shots of all kinds) of Battle Los Angeles. The aliens are here (having arrived under disguise of a rain of meteorites) and they are after mankind. Mankind fights back and the US marines are on the front line. Chances are slim, but marines, the US and mankind will prevail.

 

source www.imdb.com/title/tt1217613/

source www.imdb.com/title/tt1217613/

 

The story is so simple that there is almost nothing to tell. While Earth seems to be losing most of the battles with the invading aliens, Los Angeles is one of the last remaining battlefields. A group of marines is sent in a semi-suicidal mission to save civilians and bring them to what looks like a safe zone. The commanding officer is young and inexperienced, the sergeant (Aaron Eckhardt) with an Iraq war record and appropriate traumas will soon prove to be more capable of leading the fight.  War of the Worlds (like in H.G. Wells, including finding the vulnerability of the aliens) meets Iraq war movies. Even the graphics of the film mix the alien movies monsters with urban guerrilla a la Iraq – and they actually look quite good. The rest of the story does not matter.

 

(video source ClevverMovies)

 

While Aaron Eckhardt holds the lead role of the tough marine sergeant whose destiny is to take charge and save mankind, it is the performance of Michelle Rodriguez that I most enjoyed in this film directed by Jonathan Liebesman, a director who specializes in action movies. Rodriguez also made a specialty from playing muscled and sexy young women that bad guys should avoid upsetting. She may ask herself what will happen after the age for such roles will pass (it happens to everybody) but this is her personal concern. I love movies that are what they claim to be (I also like the same kind of humans actually) and this is why I liked in the limits of the genre Battle Los Angeles. To Liebesman’s credit it must be said that he does not try for one moment pretend that this film is anything else than what it is, there is no characters evolution (in humans as well as in aliens) and no tentative to make anything else but a good action movie. To a large extent he succeeds, or at least nothing is bad in what resulted.