“Before Midnight” Review

July 23, 2014 |  by  |  movies, reviews  |  No Comments

The “Before” series has become a dear old friend — one that lives in a far away place and returns every nine years with fascinating stories to tell.  Richard Linklater directs his signature series with the calm and assured confidence of someone who knows they have something special on their hands.  With Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke reprising their superb roles, the partnership virtually guarantees a masterpiece of cinema.

“Before Midnight” begins at the airport with Jesse sending his young son back home to America after a summer in Greece.  He waves goodbye at the security gate and sadly ambles out to his car.  Awaiting him is the radiant love of his life, Celine.  The camera pans past the back seat window and we catch a glimpse of two beautiful young twin daughters sleeping.  That is a moment I won’t soon forget.  It confirmed one of my most deeply felt cinematic wishes — that Jesse and Celine would get together, be happy and start a family.  It is a moment that even the most jaded and cynical moviegoer would have a hard time diminishing.

Our favorite couple has spent the summer vacationing in Greece with friends.  It had been the best summer of their lives.  But Jesse is feeling guilty and drops the not-so-subtle hint to Celine that he feels he should be spending more time with his son, who lives thousands of miles away.  This thought becomes a point of contention, as Celine reads into it far more than was probably implied.

Unusually for this series, the middle section of this chapter features a few other characters chiming in with their thoughts.  It is a brief section of film, and all I wanted was for the camera to refocus on our reason for watching.  Soon, Jesse and Celine become the center of attention yet again and they head off on one of their signature chatty and romantic walks.

The final third of the film is spent in a hotel room, a gift from one of their holiday friends.  What then starts out as a romantic getaway, soon gets waylaid by an off-hand comment, which results in a desperately intense argument that confronts whether or not they are still really in love with one another.

These two characters are adults now… dealing with adult feelings and adult problems.  We have moved past youthful hope and happily ever-afters.  The screenplay explores the complexity of relationships and parenting.  It delves deep into the psyche of a loving father and a strong, independent woman.   Rarely has there ever been a more mature and realistic vision of modern relationships.  Every minute of “Before Midnight” has more drama and intelligence than all the summer blockbusters combined.  It hits all the right notes and I cannot believe that I have to wait until 2022 to see them again.  I have already penciled that one in to my 2022 Top 10 List.

FOUR STARS Before Midnight Review

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“Before Sunset” Review

July 23, 2014 |  by  |  movies, reviews  |  No Comments

Nine years after Jesse and Celine make that promise in the masterful film, “Before Sunrise”, we find out what happened to them.  In 2004, Richard Linklater directed this long-awaited follow-up to that 1995 classic, as Jesse and Celine meet for the first time since their memorable night spent falling in love.

Jesse is now a published author and is on a book tour of all the major European cities.  While discussing his book with the press at the world famous ‘Shakespeare & Company’ book shop in Paris, he glances to his right and sees the vision he has been dreaming about for nine long years.  Celine stands smiling.  They are both, at once, deliriously happy, hesitant and nervous.  Jesse quickly relieves himself from his duties and sneaks away to catch up with his old one-night flame.

Celine had found him by reading the book, which bears a striking resemblance to the events that transpired between them years earlier.  He admits to having written the book, in part, to find her again.  It worked… and they pick up right where they left off — wandering the city streets, this time in Paris, chatting away like nothing had ever changed.

“Before Sunset” doesn’t take place over the course of one day and night.  Rather, this film is shot in real time.  It might as well have been one long 90-minute take.  Yet again, Jesse is scheduled to fly back home — to his wife and young son.  I won’t reveal too much more about this film.  It is best experienced as the characters do… as it happens.

Delpy and Hawke must be eternally grateful to have these characters in their lives.  Very few films ever give their actors more to chew on than the “Before” series.  Long ten-minute takes are endlessly fascinating and captivating.  I could watch this couple ramble on for days, weeks, months, years.

“Before Sunset”ends in a beautiful way — and we leave knowing that we will pick up Jesse and Celine’s story nine years later.  “Before Midnight” would be released in 2013.

FOUR STARS Before Sunset Review

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“Before Sunrise” Review

July 23, 2014 |  by  |  movies, reviews  |  No Comments

In 1995, the director, Richard Linklater, created a masterpiece of modern cinema with “Before Sunrise”.  It was such a simple concept — two young strangers, Jesse and Celine, meet cute on a train headed to Paris via Vienna.  They strike up a conversation and Jesse convinces Celine to disembark with him in Vienna.  The film spends the rest of the day and night sauntering around the gorgeous city with this vibrant, intelligent and endlessly fascinating couple.  However, the sun will soon rise and Jesse will have to leave for the airport to fly back to the States.

There is hardly any more to the plot… just two people, finding each other in a vast ocean of forgettable humanity, who have a thoughtful and beautiful conversation.  They walk.  They talk.  They drink coffee.  They listen to music.  They kiss.  These are all the first moments of their falling in love – and it is captured more realistically and profoundly than almost any film ever made.

The drama all stems from Jesse’s looming departure to fly home.  They both know it is coming.  Neither of them wants to be one of those people who promises they will stay in touch.  No one ever does that… at least not pre-internet  They didn’t have facebook back then.  Instead, they simply agree to enjoy the special night for what it is.

Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy are celestial in their now iconic roles.  These are the kind of roles actors dream about.  Long intricate takes, listening, reacting, talking with the authenticity of true life.  The script is magnificent… but the delivery is nothing short of perfection.  “Before Sunrise” is a stage play come-to-life on the streets of Vienna.

As the hour looms, the feelings intensify and they cannot simply say goodbye.  They make a promise to meet each other again… six months from that night… back at the same train station.  Do they keep that promise?  We, the viewer, truly hope so.  This cannot be the end of such a lovely story.  We would have to wait nine years to find out what happened to that promise.  “Before Sunset” would be released in 2004.

FOUR STARS Before Sunrise Review

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“Two Days, One Night” Trailer

July 21, 2014 |  by  |  movies, trailers  |  1 Comment

“Two Days, One Night”, starring the greatest actress in the world today, Marion Cotillard, follows a young woman who has only one weekend to convince her colleagues to give up their bonuses so that she can keep her job.

The film was a huge success at the Cannes Film Festival, competing for the Palme d’Or.  The Dardenne brothers direct yet another critically acclaimed movie that is absolutely one of my most anticipated of 2014.

It seems a dead certainty to be nominated for best Foreign Film at all the major awards for 2014.  And the Most Beautiful Face of 2013, Marion Cotillard, will probably be garnering another Oscar nomination for her work.

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“Fifty Shades of Grey” Teaser Teaser

July 21, 2014 |  by  |  movies, trailers  |  No Comments

So it has come to this…  A teaser trailer for a teaser trailer?  Whatever.  Here is the first look at the film adaptation of the worldwide phenomenon — “Fifty Shades of Grey”, starring Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan.  You can expect this film to make half a billion at the box office!

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“Kite” Trailer

July 17, 2014 |  by  |  movies, trailers  |  No Comments

I really liked the 1998 anime, “A Kite” — on which this live-action remake is based.  The gorgeous India Eisley plays Sawa, the young school-girl who is hell-bent on avenging her parents’ murder.  Using her cunning and explosive bullets, she tracks down those responsible.  Samuel L. Jackson and Callan McAuliffe also star in what I hope will be a fitting remake of the original story.  Check out the cool trailer above!

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“Laggies” Trailer

July 17, 2014 |  by  |  movies, trailers  |  No Comments

“Laggies” premiered at The Sundance Film Festival and is receiving good buzz.  The indie-comedy stars Keira Knightley, Chloë Grace Moretz, Ellie Kemper and Sam Rockwell.  It will be released sometime in September.  Check out the trailer above.

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“The Chaser” Review

July 16, 2014 |  by  |  movies, reviews  |  No Comments

“The Chaser” (Chugyeogja) was released in South Korea in 2008 — the following year in the USA.  It was met with universal acclaim and there was serious talk of an American remake, along the lines of the Scorsese version of “The Departed”.  DiCaprio was even rumored to be attached to the lead role.  I’ve been meaning to watch this film for going-on five years.  Sometimes a film gets lost in the shuffle.

It was worth the wait.  “The Chaser” is a taut and riveting thriller that never loosens its grip, even for a moment.  It stars Yun-seok Kim as Joong-ho, an ex-cop turned pimp who is having trouble hanging on to the girls in his “employ”.  The girls keep disappearing and he suspects they are being kidnapped and sold on.  Soon, however, he discovers that the truth may be even more grim than that.

One of the things I love about this film, and Korean cinema in general, is that it never takes its foot off the gas.  In a Hollywood thriller, audiences always get what they expect.  They always deliver in spurts, letting you come up for air.  And they almost always require, if not a happy ending, a just and fair conclusion that leaves the audience fully satisfied.  Without giving anything away… “The Chaser” isn’t going to let you off that easily.

Consider the great chase scenes in this film.  They are not car chases, laden with explosives and amazing stunts.  They are long, hard slogs, up steep hills, on foot, that end with desperately tired fist fights that are awkward and unathletic.  Each punch is not accentuated by a foley artist smacking a watermelon with a 5-iron.  The fight scenes use real sounds, much like the ones in Soderbergh’s “Haywire”.  It works far better than the typical Hollywood sounds — WHAAAA-PACKKKK!!!!

The only thing that may hold “The Chaser” a fingertip away from a Four-Star rating is its relentlessly bleak tone.  I admired the courage it displayed… but I am not sure it would lend itself to many repeat viewings.  It is too dark and heavy for that.  However, it is a superbly well directed thriller with top-notch performances from the entire cast.  It ranks as yet another great film from South Korea — a country whose cinema succeeds at a higher strike-rate than any other country at the present time.

THREE AND A HALF STARS The Chaser Review

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“The Great Beauty” Review

July 14, 2014 |  by  |  movies, reviews  |  No Comments

“The Great Beauty” (La grande bellezza) is a gorgeous slice of classic Italian cinema.  It is very reminiscent of Fellini’s most iconic work — sewing together a tapestry of scenes that may not add up to a complete narrative whole, but which evoke wistful remembrances, profound ideas and grand imagery.

Toni Servillo gives one of the finest performances of 2013 as Jep Gambardella, an intellectual 65 year-old socialite, who has lived a life of surface pleasures and is, perhaps, finally starting to appreciate the beauty of the life around him.  One morning, he notes to himself, after making love to a beautiful woman, that he doesn’t have time to do things he doesn’t want to do.  Rather than stick around to see her photo album, he slinks away to saunter along the river bank.

Paolo Sorrentino directs a film that intertwines deep image poetry with cynical and darkly humorous dialogue that rings true on so many occasions.  We are treated to languid visuals of glorious Italian art and landscape.  It all seems to be a reminder of that age old notion — to stop and smell the roses.

There are also some brilliantly written and superbly acted party scenes that act as commentary on life, love, work and what matters most.  Jep Gambardella tries to portray that he has it all figured out… but we get the impression that he is just starting to comprehend what matters most to him.  He is still on the journey.

“The Great Beauty” opens with this quote, “To travel is very useful, it makes the imagination work, the rest is just delusion and pain. Our journey is entirely imaginary, which is its strength.”   This film lives up to that quote.  It is a vague journey, from which we have to extrapolate what matters most to us.

THREE AND A HALF STARS The Great Beauty Review

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“The Armstrong Lie” Review

July 14, 2014 |  by  |  movies, reviews  |  No Comments

In 2009, the director of this documentary, Alex Gibney, probably began making what would eventually become a fluff piece on Lance Armstrong’s comeback to the world of cycling after a four-year lay-off.  He probably never envisioned that it would become the definitive story of Armstrong’s disgraceful downfall from the sport.

One of the myriad questions Lance Armstrong answers candidly in this film is whether or not he would have been caught if he hadn’t tried to make a comeback.  He clearly believes that he would have been free and clear were it not for his ego compelling him to return.  After all, that seems to be what Armstrong is most guilty of  — having a massive all-consuming ego.

One of the things this documentary does terrifically well is to match-up the detail of the “doping program” with the actual footage from the days it was being perpetrated.  As a huge fan of the Tour de France… I remembered a lot of the days in question.  It was fascinating to hear of “motorman” — the guy on the motorcycle who would travel the route of the tour at night, packing the drugs and blood bags and equipment necessary for the program to function secretly.  The brazen confidence of the US Postal team program was amazing to behold.

I love the sport and I admired Lance Armstrong.  Clearly, he was a pretty manipulative and shady guy.  This film details all the people he bullied and threatened with legal action.  It highlights all the teammates and rivals who participated in the “code of silence”.  However, I never once got the impression that Lance was doing anything that wasn’t standard practice.  Was he cheating?  Yes.  Was EVERYONE else?  Yes.  He just did it better than they did.

THREE AND A HALF STARS The Armstrong Lie Review

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