Spike Jonze writes and directs Joaquin Phoenix in a film about a lonely writer who develops an unlikely relationship with his newly-purchased computer operating system that is designed to meet his every need. Scarlett Johansson, Olivia Wilde, Rooney Mara and Amy Adams co-star. I am sold! This is going to be really great.Continue Reading... Post a comment (0)
“Magic Magic” is a really spooky film about a young woman, named Alicia, who travels to Chile to visit her cousin and her cousin’s friends as they embark on a road trip to a remote house in the countryside. Alicia is played by Juno Temple and the movie co-stars Emily Browning, Michael Cera and Catalina Sandino Moreno.
Initially, everything seems pretty normal. Alicia is very shy and clings to the company of her cousin. However, just as they get underway on their road trip, her cousin is forced to return to town for a day or two and promises that she will meet up with the group later. This leaves Alicia with an odd group of semi-strangers.
One of the group members, played by Catalina Sandino Moreno, is a bossy and irritable sort. She rubs Alicia the wrong way. The feeling is mutual. Another is her cousin’s boyfriend, played by Agustín Silva — a loner-type who is obsessed with hypnotism. And the final member of the quintet is Brink, performed with maximum creep-factor by Michael Cera. It is definitely a 180 degree turn from his usual roles.
I do not want to detail too much of the plot, because this is a film that needs to be experienced rather than explained. Suffice it to say… things do not go smoothly and the entire trip soon becomes a severe mind-fuck with some quite scary scenes.
Make no mistake though… “Magic Magic” is not a horror film. It is an internalized thriller that will chill your bones for 90-minutes. Do not expect gore or momentary frights. This is the sort of film that continues working days and weeks after the viewing.
If I have a complaint, it is that the film wears out its welcome a little. There is an hour’s worth of material here, which has been stretched out to 98 minutes. I did feel the urge to check my watch during the middle third of the running time.
Juno Temple is superb. It is no wonder that she is becoming one of the most sought after actresses in her generation. She is terrific in every film she chooses… and she usually chooses interesting films. Her movies are already must-watch for me. “Magic Magic” is another success for her. It is a small film that is well worth checking out on DVD if and when it doesn’t show up at a theater near you.
The Korean people must have something in the water over there. Their movies are consistently amazing. Their women are, almost without argument, the most beautiful on Earth. Their actors are universally talented. Kimchi might be the greatest food on the planet. K-Pop is taking over the universe. And did I mention that their movies are consistently amazing?
“The Tower” is a mega-budget spectacular re-imagining of the 1974 disaster epic, “The Towering Inferno”. The movie is set in Seoul on Christmas Eve. A brand new luxury skyscraper called Tower Sky is hosting a VIP party on one of the highest of its 120 floors. In grand fashion, the billionaire owner has arranged for helicopters to circle above the building sprinkling snow on the guests. However, something disastrous goes wrong and one of the choppers crashes into the side of the tower, setting it ablaze.
Firefighters rush to the scene… but the infernal disaster is spiraling out of control and someone heroic is going to have to perform miracles to save the trapped souls inside.
As with all disaster movies, certain characters become our focus, in order to humanize the situation for us. In “The Tower”, we become very familiar with Lee Dae-ho (Kim Sang-kyung), a devoted father and the manager of this landmark building. Yoon-hee (Ye-jin Son) is one of the senior employees. Captain Kang Young-ki (Sol Kyung-gu) is the heroic firefighter who will have to risk his life for those inside.
I cannot stress how astonishing this film looks. Hollywood only wishes they could pull off this type of film any more. You really feel every explosion… every dizzying scene… every emotion. “The Tower” is one of the most epic spectacles of the past few cinematic years. If you are anything like me, your heart will be racing.
The acting is superb. Sol Kyung-gu is a wonderful actor. I remember seeing him in “Oasis”, one of the most heartbreaking films I have ever seen. He has everything you’d want in a hero role. You believe his concern and fear and trepidation and courage. The supporting cast is equal to the task… no weak links to be found.
There is a scene, deep into the film, with a young girl weeping with fear as she stands alone on the bridge between the two towers — the glass floor cracking beneath her feet. It is an epic scene… one that I won’t soon forget (check out the magnificent trailer below for a sneak peek).
If there is any weakness, it is that common thread in all disaster movies… the characters all play second fiddle to the actual disaster. It is hard to build 3-dimensional characters when you need to go full-steam-ahead into the action. Nevertheless, that is a small quibble with an otherwise impeccable effort.
Make sure you seek out “The Tower” on DVD. Actually… Just go ahead a make sure to start checking out more Korean cinema in general. You will rarely, if ever, be disappointed. With “The Tower”, just make sure to fire-up the biggest screen you have, crank up the speaker volume… and prepare for a crazy thrill ride.
I’ve always wanted for Kate Bosworth to become the superstar she promised to be, back in 2002-3, when she was showing amazing potential in films like “Blue Crush”, “The Rules of Attraction” and “Wonderland”. But it hasn’t really happened yet. She has star quality, but has generally wasted it in poor to average film projects. Choices are more important than talent when it comes to making a superstar.
That being said, this trailer for “And While We Were Here” gives me a glimmer of hope that she can still pull it off. It is the kind of movie that she should be choosing… smaller, more intimate work that will highlight her skills far better than superhero movies or boring comedies.
I think this film promises to be a good one. It opens in limited release very soon.Continue Reading... Post a comment (0)
This film will suffer, in the eyes of many, because it is yet another entry in the oh-so-tired vampire genre that has suffocated us for more than half a decade now. If “Byzantium” had been released at the beginning of this blood-sucking cinematic wave, it might have felt a little more special.
The movie tells the story of Eleanor (Saoirse Ronan) and her “older sister”, Clara (Gemma Arterton) — 200 year-old vampires who are being hunted down by other fanged fellows and decide to seek refuge in a small coastal town. They find shelter in a run-down hotel called “Byzantium”, but their actions are all too conspicuous and trouble soon tracks them down.
Eleanor is permanently sixteen. Clara is actually her mother, but because she “turned” before Eleanor, she appears far too young for that role. Hence the sisterly deception they impart to everyone. For over two centuries, Clara has supported them both by working in the oldest profession in the world. Eleanor is aching to tell someone the truth… and often does, just to gauge their reactions. She develops a connection with a young man she meets in the town and soon finds herself learning to trust for the first time. Clara is not pleased.
Neil Jordan (“Interview with the Vampire” & “The End of the Affair”) directs a visually stunning film with two superbly moody and nuanced performances from Ronan and Arterton. On the surface, it seems a surefire success… but there are problems lurking all over the place.
The film takes itself too seriously. It meanders morosely around its subject, circling closer and closer to the final act revelations. There are no moments of brevity or changes of pace. Every dark film needs to take a break from time to time, or it all starts to get a little much.
I also found the male performances to be stilted and awkward. There are a handful of significant male roles in the story — every one of them is completely outshone by the passion and intensity of the lead girls.
“Byzantium” is a gorgeous looking work of art. Some of the scenes blew me away. Consider the shot of Clara on the balcony of the hotel as she stares down on Eleanor and her new friend. It is an epically beautiful still shot that could be hung in any gallery. I was also wowed by the blood-soaked waterfall shots — especially the one of Clara standing underneath, being showered in red. The cinematography is remarkable throughout.
I have to say that “Byzantium” is a mixed bag… a lot to love and a lot to hate. If it had undergone another re-write to eliminate some shaky dialogue and quicken the pace… And if it had been released at a time when vampire flicks weren’t lampoonishly prevalent… I may have thought of it along the lines of “Let the Right One In” or “Let Me In”. As it stands, the film is certainly worth a look, but it probably won’t deserve a second one.
I’m not going to spend too much time on this one. “Gone” is throwaway material. It has a generic script, some ludicrous plot points, uninspired direction and production values that seem more at home in a 1990′s straight-to-cable thriller. Is it wrong that I liked it?
Amanda Seyfried plays Jill, a former kidnapping victim who is having trouble letting go of the incident. She escaped unharmed, but still suffers from overwhelming fear. She is now well-trained in the art of self-defense. She is haunted by paranoia and takes every precaution to avoid ever being put in that situation again. However, her attacker is still at large, as the police never believed her story. Instead, she was treated for psychological issues and is now popping pills and living with her sister.
Early one morning, she arrives home, after her graveyard shift at a local diner, only to find that her sister is missing. Jill goes into frantic-mode and immediately puts two and two together. He is back! Now all she has to do is convince the cynical cops that she isn’t having delusions about a mystery assailant that may not even exist. After they show apathy for her story, she is forced to track down the killer herself.
Everything about this film tells me that I should rip it to shreds… but I just cannot do it. I was hooked. I never looked at my watch to see how much time was left. I bought Seyfried’s character. I had to know what would happen. And yet, I was fully aware at all times just how absurd the plot was becoming and how silly I felt for enjoying myself.
Part of my problem is that I could just about enjoy watching anything starring Amanda Seyfried. The girl is super talented and one of the most beautiful women alive. She created a character that I cared about… despite all the lunacy surrounding her. “Gone” is a silly thriller with a really good lead performance. Call it one of my guilty pleasures! I allow myself one or two of those a year.
Watching “The Canyons” was a peculiar experience. It feels like the cheap version of a really good movie. The film was actually directed by Paul Shrader (“American Gigolo” & “Auto Focus”) and written by Bret Easton Ellis (“The Rules of Attraction” & “American Psycho”). However, it looks and feels more like a film-school project on a $5,000 budget. Not that there’s anything wrong with that!
It also features the “comeback” performance from Lindsay Lohan — an actress with some major baggage and whose mere presence in a movie will assuredly have viewers lugging around some loaded preconceptions. It is inevitable that all eyes will be fixated on her… mine certainly were. And I am here to say that I think she pulled it off. I think she rescues this film, elevating it from a cheap cinematic experiment to something quite substantial and emotionally affecting.
Lohan plays Tara, a failed actress who has given up on the movie industry and settled for shacking up with a rich guy who can take care of her financial needs. Her boyfriend, Christian, played by hardcore porn star, James Deen, is an emotionally cold manipulator who uses people as casually as a paper towel. They have an experimental “open relationship”, where Christian finds and invites men on the internet to come over and fuck his girl.
Tara is having an affair with an ex-boyfriend. Christian, despite his swinging attitude to sex, is livid about her secret infidelity and starts down a jealous path that leads to dire consequences. On the surface, it all seems like routine Hollywood shenanigans, with beautiful people fucking each other literally and figuratively.
There are also quite a number of overt references to the art of cinema, and perhaps the death of it. Interspersed during the opening sequence and throughout the film are some desolate shots of run-down, abandoned movie theaters. These shots introduce each new day in the film’s timeline. Even the characters seem to represent the vapid, empty nature of Hollywood and the cold-hearted ambivalence of the industry and its people.
Overall, the story is only mildly engaging. The cinematography is distinctly mediocre. The sound-mix is amateurish. The supporting cast is merely adequate (I don’t think James Deen should quit his day job). The music is practically irrelevant. In fact, the only thing that drags this generally lukewarm effort up to respectable level is the innate talent of Lindsay Lohan — an actress whose star has significantly dimmed in recent years.
We all know the Lindsay Lohan story. Half of the world seems hell-bent on hating her and everything she does. Perhaps some of that is deserved… but it does feel like the media and the more judgmental among us are piling on. Robert Downey Jr doesn’t seem to get the same kind of treatment — and he was every bit the disgusting drunk and drug abusing loser. Perhaps, if Lindsay can follow his lead and continue making a significant effort to regain her reputation, then her saga will have a respectable and triumphant third act.
She is really good in “The Canyons”. It is not Oscar caliber material, but it is a noteworthy and admirable performance that deserves an honest and objective jury — something she will not get. There were moments in this odd little film where I saw the spark again… moments that made me wish she hadn’t tried to throw it all away. Those moments make me think that there is something special to come from her in the future. I hope so.
And for the pervs out there… Yes, she gets naked a few times in this film. As Seinfeld would say, “They’re real… and they’re spectacular!”
“The Hunt” contains one of the most poignant and thoughtful performances of the year. Mads Mikkelsen plays Lucas, a small town kindergarten teacher who is universally liked and respected in his community. Klara, one of his very young students, is carelessly exposed to something on the internet by her teenage brother and she subsequently tries to emulate that with her teacher, Lucas, who quickly reprimands her for inappropriate behavior. It is an unfortunate occurrence that one could imagine taking place quite easily in this modern world, where graphic imagery can be seen by young children with no context or supervision whatsoever.
When the principal of the school gets involved, she feels compelled to act cautiously — suspending Lucas pending an investigation. Soon thereafter, gossip and rumor spread like wildfire throughout the small community and Lucas is branded a pariah… an evil outcast who is no longer welcome.
Lucas loses his job, his…Continue Reading... Post a comment (0)
Review by Mike Horne – contributing film critic.
Jeff Nichols’ “Mud” lives up to its title. It is rich, dark, slow moving and somewhat sticky.
Our story begins with two intrepid Mississippi boys, Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neck Bone (Jacob Lofland). They have heard tale of a boat stuck in a tree on a remote island, magically placed there after a storm. They steal away one early morning hoping to claim it for themselves. Find the boat they do, but it becomes clear they were not the first.
After following footprints on the beach, with a mysterious cross in both heals, they meet their stow away… the bedraggled and superstitious Mud, played by Matthew McConaughey. He says the boat is his by right, but agrees to make a trade: The boat for food. The sensible Neck Bone has his doubts, but Ellis is intrigued.
We later learn that Mud is on the run, having shot a man who “had it coming to him”. Mud defended the honor of his golden-haired sweetheart, Juniper (Reese Witherspoon), who is holed up in a cheap motel. Ellis is moved by Mud’s outlaw tale of true love and agrees to help him get word to her. Neck Bone, loyal to his friend, reluctantly follows.
Things quickly become complex… Juniper has been followed by a group of bounty hunters, led by the Father and brother of the man killed by Mud, intent on revenge. Ellis has complications of his own – His first love, his parents separating, and the end to his home and life on the river.
With the state troopers and bounty hunters closing in, Ellis and Neck Bone, each for their own reasons, race across town, doing what they can to help Mud and Juniper escape. Easier said than done.
“Mud” is a heady mix of themes and emotions. At its heart, it is a buddy flick, with the tender dynamic between Ellis and Mud. There is an almost fairytale view of the South presented, with the Mississippi at its heart. The main undercurrent is disappointment and love lost. Lives irrevocably damaged by decisions made in the past; The hopes of the future tainted by them. We are also shown the importance of family, even if it is not always blood that binds it.
Interestingly, women do not come across very well in this movie. They confuse and twist the hearts of the males, some back-stabbing and misleading along the way. Considering Witherspoon is the main love interest, I found her to be pathetic and undeserving of the troubled Mud’s affection. There are no faults with her acting, but her character only makes me feel pity for Mud’s own stupidity. I could not see what Mud saw, and this left me feeling a little cold towards both Juniper and Mud.
The true heroes of the film are Ellis and Neck Bone. Neck Bone is wise, cocky and the perfect childhood friend. Ellis is the real heart and conscience of the story. It is his sensitivity and brave decisions that moves the movie along its path. He wears his heart on his sleeve, and has no problem following his impulses. Tye Sheridan delivers a stellar performance, bringing an amazing amount of depth to such a seemingly simple character.
“Mud” may not be for everyone, its pace a little slow for some, but there is much to be enjoyed here. The acting is superb, and the side characters bring much needed color and interest to the overall story. Matthew McConaughey is once again on good form, dropping the pretty boy look, for filth and crooked teeth, but he is no less charming. This is a slice of American life, with holes in its boots, and hope on the horizon.
The new film from, director, Alfonso Cuarón, is called “Gravity”. It stars George Clooney and Sandra Bullock as two astronauts who are left abandoned and floating in space after a horrific accident.
Early buzz on this film is out of this world. I know I will be first in line to see it.
“Gravity” will be released on October 4th.
This extended trailer is something quite spectacular. Just imagine how it will play on the big screen!Continue Reading... Post a comment (0)