Entries tagged with “American cinema”.


I confess that I was waiting for such a movie for quite a while. It’s so long since I have seen a comedy that made me laugh without being stupid, with characters I could care about without falling into melodrama, with a story interesting to follow and no super-persons involved. Game Nightwritten by and directed by and succeeds to be all these and made me spend some of the most pleasant couple of hours in a cinema theater recently.

 

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2704998

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2704998

 

The characters of the story are quite recognizable for many of the viewers. They are young mid-class professionals in today’s America, whose lives is centered around the hobby of playing all kinds of rather innocent society games. Never falling on the bad side of vice, the gaming passion defines their way of life with funny moments – like proposing marriage in riddles – or doubtful impact when concerning their decision or even capability of bringing children to life. When games and real life become entangled and the game in game situation turns to be more real than realistic the characters become involved in a turmoil of events where physical integrity and even lives are at risk, and viewers become part of the game. Same as the heroes on screen we know that the bullets cannot hurt (too much) the good guys and the blood spilled by them is just ketchup. The script authors just added one layer between fiction and reality, and this layer turns the film into a combination of surrealistic action movie and situation comedy gags – a few of them novel enough to extract some extra laughs.

 

(video source Zero Media)

 

The excellent cast feels good on screen and you can feel that they had fun making this movie. A special note should be given to the lead actors and who add personal chemistry to their comic talents, and to , a young comedian who constructs the role of a nerd cop with a soul in  manner that lets me expect some more fun from him in the future.

If you look for good entertainment where neither the characters not the viewers are considered stupid – Game Night should be the choice.

 

The vice of gambling inspired quite a number of literary and cinematographic works, starting maybe with Dostoevsky’s novel which shares the name with the films that inspired it until the almost masterpiece movie “House of Games” written and directed by . “The Gambler” directed by  is not an adaptation of the great Russian writer’s short novel but rather a remake of a 1974 film that featured in the lead role. There are enough reasons to watch this 2014 version of the story with in the lead role, even if you have seen or not the older film.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2039393

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2039393

 

The film history does not lack heroes (or anti-heroes) who lead a more than honorable life and/or have a respected profession at day, while spending their nights in vices of all sorts. Most of the characters of this kind are women, but there are also men like Jim Bennett, a decent and passionate professor of literature and novel writer who spends his free time in gambling crazily money that he does not have, borrowing from all possible bad guys, ruining the trust of his mother and of his girlfriend. At some point in time the viewers ask themselves whether he is playing a survival or a suicidal game, as he invites trouble and seems immune to the any danger or concern as soon as he walks the door of a gambling place. The response is in the character of gamblers which escapes reason (there are a few lines that I suspect were borrowed from Dostoevsky). His chance to survive depends upon getting rid of the addiction.

 

(video source Movieclips Trailers)

 

‘s “The Gambler” is written more like an action movie than as a character study. At some point in time the hero borrows money from three different mob groups, and uses the cash to cheat each other in order to try to save his skin. The influence of the gangsters movies of the 70s and 80s is visible, with reverences to  or Sidney Lumet. The atmosphere, the darkness and even the humor are present in the right doses. While the action is quite satisfying the quality of the film derives mostly from the actor work of who succeeds in this film to deliver one of the best roles in his career, with an intense rendition of the combination of the emptiness and despair of the intelligent hero who is aware about the falling spiral path of his life, but has a hard time fighting to prevent it. Supporting roles are played by fine actors like , , and (his last movie!). I liked less the very final which may be a little to conventional cinema relative to the rest of the film, but the overall impression is better than expected.

 

Sometimes telling the idea or describing the synopsis of the film is much clearer than the feeling that we had while viewing it. This is exactly my feeling about Broken City, a political thriller taking place in the days between the New York City mayoral elections (with a prologue and some flashbacks added). The story (a corruption case at the level of the candidates involved in the campaign including the incumbent mayor) and the cast should have provided the premises of a – at least – a good thriller. And yet, the outcome, in my opinion, disappoints.

 

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1235522/

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1235522/

 

The name of the lead hero in the film is Billy Taggart (). He is an ex-cop and the film starts with the episode which cut short his career in the police, a moment when apparently he was easy on the trigger on what seems to be a vigilante killing of a guy everybody hated. Turned into a private investigator he is involved in working for the New York mayor () in the final days of the election campaign. He seems to be a honest type, but involvment with politics is not made for honest people, especially as they have a dept to pay to the politician who supported him in his dark hours. All the story however becomes more complicated as the film develops, and the details (mostly related to real estate fraud) are never clear enough or interesting enough.  The final is also far from convincing, with a final twist that was hard to believe, belonging to the psychology of self sacrifice.

 

(video source Movieclips Trailers)

 

There are certainly reasons to watch this film I admired the quality of the actors - , , . I wrote actors and not acting, because I do not believe that their roles here are any peak of their acting careers. The principal problem of this film is the story telling, too many threads, none of them too clear, some interrupted suddenly as the relation between the hero and his girlfriend, a character that simply disappears from the story with no much explanation. Broken City ends by being much less that it could have been.

 

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.