Robin Williams was predominantly known for his hilarity and exuberant… MoreRobin Williams was predominantly known for his hilarity and exuberant sense of fun before he finally started to show that he had acting chops. In 1987, he received an Oscar nomination for "Good Morning Vietnam" and then, two years later, followed that up with another Best Actor nomination for "Dead Poets Society". To this day, this still stands as one of his most appealing characters and performances.
Todd Anderson (Ethan Hawke) is sent to a school where his popular older brother was valedictorian. It's here that he meets room-mate, Neil (Robert Sean Leonard) and many other bright young men, who have lots of potential but lack any real direction. That is, until they meet their new English teacher Professor John Keating (Robin Williams). He's one of the few who sees the potential in them and encourages them to embrace life.
"Carpe Diem. Seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary." These are the words that encapsulate this inspirational story about having a passion for and "sucking the marrow out of..." life. Professor Keating teaches in a very different and personal manner, quoting from such poets as Walt Whitman, Byron, Henry Thoreau and Robert Frost. He has a passion for what he teaches and shows a determination to instil that in his pupils. This passion also exudes onto the audience as we too, explore and enjoy the great writer's and poet's of our past and how rich and effective their words can be.
Director Peter Weir draws on his own experiences of a boarding school education and Tom Schulman's script (partly based on his experiences at an all-boys preparatory school he attended and his professor there, Samuel F. Pickering Jr.) exposes the rigidity within the walls of such an environment. It's to their credit, though, that they manage to bring a sense of hope to education and the joy and expression that lies therein. Filled with many visual and verbal poetic moments, Weir's film is at times, both haunting and beautiful with gorgeous cinematography by John Seale and an effective music score by Maurice Jarre.
There are also a whole host of very impressive performances from it's young cast - an excruciatingly shy Ethan Hawke, being a particular standout. However, it all rests on the shoulders of Williams; he's brilliant, with a very charismatic and heartfelt performance. He taps into his comic abilities, never over doing it and when he needs to deliver the dramatic weight, he does so with aplomb. You're able to warm to him and be completely swept up in his infectious enthusiasm, in turn, allowing you to fully identify with his impressionable students.
At times the film can be emotionally manipulative and doesn't always work but, for the most part, it's very memorable and delivers one of the most uplifting movie endings I can remember. Never has a school desk been used so effectively.
What more can you ask from a film that's able to instil thought, encourage an agreeing nod, raise a smile and even shed a tear? Weir, Williams and co. manage all of these things and for that reason, I give applause... "Oh Captain, my Captain".
French performers Catherine Deneuve and Gerard Depardieu are two… MoreFrench performers Catherine Deneuve and Gerard Depardieu are two household names in their native France but also familiar with English speaking filmgoers. Basically, they've been around and have delivered an incalculable amount of great performances throughout their careers. This is a film that brings them both together (although not for the first time) and serves as a reminder of how skilful and commanding they are on screen.
Suzanne Pujol (Catherine Denueve) is a "Potiche" - a decorative, trophy wife - who runs a household, while her husband Robert (Fabrice Luchini) runs the family umbrella factory and philanders with his secretary. A workers strike breaks out which leads to Robert having a heart attack and while he recuperates, Suzanne reluctantly takes control of the family business with her two adult children. However, Suzanne is more shrewd and clever than given credit for and she manages to regain the trust of the workers and turn the fortunes of the business around while steadily gaining respect from numerous corners of society including Maurice Babin (Gerard Depardieu), the influential Mayor.
It takes a little time to work up to "Potiche" as it's very dialogue driven. So much so, that it's quite difficult to keep up with the subtitles and it's constant stream of verbal exchanges. However, it's confidently handled and when it does get going it throws in many facets of an individuals life and the complexities and challenges that life throws at us all.
Where it's strengths lie is in it's perfectly pitched commentary on the struggle that women faced throughout the 1970's in order to achieve the same equality as men. Denueve's Suzanne Pujol is the perfect embodiment of a woman hanging up her apron and reclaiming her respect and dignity. It also shows a balance between the strength and vulnerability involved in such a time; on the surface, Suzanne is seen as weak yet she grows in confidence and even considers divorcing her husband. Meanwhile, her daughter Joëlle (Judith Godrèche) is seen as strong and independent yet ultimately can't bear to be alone. One of the few decent male figures is Suzanne's son, Laurent (Jérémie Rénier). He's a prominent supporting character and even though he's male and serves as his mothers rock, he seems to carry a certain femininity. This is one of the many clever little devices that provide this film with an astute commentary of the politics and the cognitive shift between the sexes during the 1970's.
The only issue I had was the pacing; despite the wonderful story, quirky humour and solid performances, it fails to completely hold your attention. This is a small gripe but still one that I couldn't ignore. If it delivered itself with a bit more urgency, then this would have been top class.
A subtly handled little dramatic comedy that manages to incorporate many facets of life and has a sumptuous rendering of the 70's era. It could have been tighter but it's still a lot of fun.
When director Derek Cianfrance and star Ryan Gosling collaborated on… MoreWhen director Derek Cianfrance and star Ryan Gosling collaborated on the grim, but excellent "Blue Valentine" in 2010, they explored the dissolution of a married couple's relationship. Two years later, they're at it again with yet another personal journey about the relationship between fathers and sons. The results are no less impressive than their previous delivery and, this time, arguably better.
Motorcycle stunt rider Luke (Ryan Gosling), meets one of his old flames Romina (Eva Mendes). It turns out that Romina has a son and Luke is the father. Luke then decides that he wants to provide for him but it leads him into robbing banks where he crosses the path of a rookie but ambitious policeman (Bradley Cooper). Their altercation ends up affecting more people than they ever expected.
A triptych movie - divided into three parts - where Cianfrance adopts a deliberate pace and allows his characters the space to grow and develop. First off, this is the most impressive element to the film; the characters are all three-dimensional with deeply emotional drives and motivations as Gosling, Cooper, Dane DeHaan and relative newcomer Emory Cohen, all get ample time to find their feet and get into their roles in each of the chapters. Despite the maleness on show, a solid Eva Mendes flits in between them with an impressive turn in what is a very underwritten role. It's through the committed performances that we are easily able to identify with each the characters and become embroiled in their tangled relationships, that spans a generation. Cianfrance's scope is highly ambitious and for the most part, very successful. In the first third he focuses on Gosling's, Luke and his life of crime while striving to support his family and delivers some very intense heist scenes, one after another (all the more impressive as they were apparently done in one take). Much like his performance in "Drive", Gosling combines good and bad so well. He's able to exude an innocence but also an underlying darkness that few actors that achieve. It's this very combination of qualities that has Gosling at the forefront of contemporary performers. There is an absolute smouldering intensity to him. Then, just as we're getting to know Luke, the film takes a shift towards Cooper's tortured police officer, Avery Cross, in the mid-section. The blending and shift in tone is seamless and impressively delivered but as much as I was a big admirer of Cooper's recent, Oscar nominated performance, in "Silver Linings Playbook", he doesn't quite have the gravitas to make this role work for him in the same way. He does well and can't be faulted too much, but he's too blue-eyed to cut it as a tortured soul here. The intensity that Gosling brings to his role is the very thing that Cooper fails to capture. This may be slightly unfair on Cooper as he's by no means bad, but it only serves to show how strong Gosling is. His performance actually permeates the remainder of the film once he gone but it does still stumble without his presence.
Cianfrance then goes on to finish the saga by audaciaclly jumping 15 years ahead. At this point, the director fully states his ambition and although admirable, he also stretches credulity somewhat. That being said, the film is so well delivered that it's acceptable and just about gets away with it. Unfortunately, the father/son relationship that runs deep within becomes a little muddled and relies far too heavily on a coincidental encounter. With Cianfrance stretching his canvas so far it almost tears apart, held only with the most tenuous of threads. His ambition is almost too vast in relation to his material or more appropriately his running time. I could easily have watched another half hour for the latter characters to be fully rounded and any shaky plot developments ironed out.
However, the more I'm writing this, the more I'm realising that I'm being quite critical. It's not my intention to put this film down, I'm merely pointing out the things that stop this film from being a five star experience. It's very nearly there and I enjoyed it immensely.
Vast, immersive and marvellouslly assembled. Cianfrance really seems to know his stuff when piecing his stories together. "Blue Valentine" was proof of that already but he goes another step further here and the results are no less impressive. It's early doors, but so far, this is the best of 2013.
After producing the disappointing "Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark" in… MoreAfter producing the disappointing "Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark" in 2011, Guillermo del Toro lends his name - and financial services - to another American horror production, which is actually an elaboration of the 2008, three minute short, "Mamá" by the same Argentine director Andrés Muschietti. For the most part, del Toro has wisely chosen a director to invest in, but like so many before him, he fails to deliver the ultimate punch that's so important in this particular genre.
A father (Coster-Waldau), seemingly in a state of desperation abducts his two young daughters and flees with them to a remote cabin in the woods. His intention is to kill them but before he does, a dark entity interjects and kills him instead. For years afterwards, the father's twin brother (Coster-Waldau again) searches for his nieces and eventually finds them. They have went feral and claim to have been looked after by something they refer to as "Mama". However, when they head back to civilisation, "Mama" has no intentions of leaving them alone.
Let me just start by saying that "Mama" is a very frustrating movie. When I say frustrating, I don't mean bad, as this film can't quite be labeled as such. It has many things to recommend it; the deliberate pace; the teasing build up; freaky children; the spectre only hinted at or briefly glimpsed. Director Andrés Muschietti (or Andy as he's credited) certainly knows how to build tension and raise the goosebumps. He does it so commandingly and assembles two impressive lead actors that are at the forefront of everyone's minds at present; the ubiquitous, two-time Academy Award nominee Jessica Chastian and rising "Games Of Thrones" star Nikolaj Coster-Waldau - not to mention two excellent child actors in Megan Charpentier and Isabelle Nélisse, but (forgive me if I'm mistaken here) is the role of executive producer not to produce, or oversee, the financial side of a film, allowing a director to fully express their vision and help with the distribution of the product? If that's the case, then Guillermo del Toro can certainly be seen to have done his side of the bargain on the latter half, as this has reached quite an impressive audience, but on the the former he has to come under scrutiny. When this film is forced into delivering the visuals, they seem cheap and really not up to the standard that a more sophisticated audience are accustomed to. The finale is delivered in such a way that it strips the whole film of the good work that went before. Namely, revealing the spectre too much and too soon. When will filmmakers - particularly those in the horror genre - learn, that less is more? It's not necessary for us to witness the antagonist in full view and allow our minds to be force fed, when it worked so much better when we were kept in the dark. In fairness, it's a poorly written denouement that still falls at the feet of director Muschietti , who co-writes with Neil Cross and sister Barbara Muschietti. They construct a brilliant horror concept with an effective, mother/daughter emotional core, but are simply unable to bring it to any satisfying conclusion. That's exactly where the frustration lies; this film had so much going for it, that it leaves you in disbelief that it's all squandered in contrivances and poor CGI, which ultimately leaves you with the overriding feeling that not all short film's have the ability or mileage for a feature length endeavour.
For the most part, this is a very effective and engaging modern horror but like so many from recent times, it fails to deliver when it really matters. Here's some advice from your "Dada"... expect less and you'll receive more.
Having been a big fan of "American History X" in 1998, I was eager to… MoreHaving been a big fan of "American History X" in 1998, I was eager to see what else director Tony Kaye had in store. Unfortunately, he didn't make that many films and those that he did - "Lobby Lobster" and "Black Water Transit" - didn't quite reach a bigger audience. As a result, I was happy to come across "Detachment" which proves that Kaye hasn't lost any of his style or starkness.
Henry Barthes (Adrien Brody) is a substitute teacher brought in to a struggling urban high school to teach English and work with kids who are performing at a very low grade. Being a substitute is exactly the way Henry likes it as he deliberately tries to avoid making genuine connections with people (and that includes his pupils). As time goes on, though, Mr. Barthes realises his pupils' needs for his input which forces him to confront his own demons and isolation.
"And never have I felt so deeply at one and the same time so detached from myself and so present in the world."
As the film opens, this is the quote from French philosopher Albert Camus, that's scribed onto a blackboard before we are introduced to the protagonist and the personal conflict he finds himself in. On the one hand, he's a caring individual but on the other, he deliberately keeps a distance from people as he's consumed by a guilt that doesn't belong to him. His detachment is also reflected in the frustrated and disillusioned pupils he teaches, making this a melting pot of emotionally dysfunctional people. It's this very mirroring in the individuals that make this quite a thought provoking character study, as well as a diatribe on the state of the American educational system and the problems therein.
Kaye shoots the film with an edgy, fly on the wall approach, utilising the shaky-cam technique and numerous close-ups that bring you closer to the characters and their inner turmoil. There's also the assembly of a very impressive cast, all-be-it, a lot of them are wasted in thankless, underwritten roles. The likes of Bryan Cranston, Blythe Danner and William Petersen needn't have turned up at all, but James Caan lightens the mood whenever he's onscreen and the young unknowns get a chance to shine instead; particularly (the director's daughter) Betty Kaye, who develops a crush on her teacher and Sami Gayle as a young prostitute who develops a similar infatuation. The real star, though, is a brooding and commanding Brody. He's rarely offscreen for the entirety of the film and even though it's no surprise that he delivers his usual reliability, he's especially good with a very powerful and charismatic performance. However, the cast and the impressive handling of the material can't save the film from being overly depressing, or when drawing to it's conclusion, descending into melodrama from which it never fully recovers.
Cut from the same cloth as the, Oscar nominated, Ryan Gosling movie "Half Nelson", director Tony Kaye delivers a good insight into the difficulties of teaching and the importance of instilling a good childhood and sense of self in our youth.
When Steven Spielberg was finally handed a long overdue Oscar in 1993,… MoreWhen Steven Spielberg was finally handed a long overdue Oscar in 1993, he received it for tackling the harrowing genocides of World War II in "Schindler's List". So far, he's only received two Best Director Awards and the other was fittingly received when he tackled the battlefields of that very same war in "Saving Private Ryan". Two different film's but equally as powerful as the other.
During WWII, Chief of staff General Marshall (Harve Presnell) is informed of the death of three brothers in different conflicts and that their mother will receive the telegrams at the same time. A fourth brother, Private James Ryan (Matt Damon) is believed to be still alive, somewhere in the French countryside, and the decision is taken to locate him. Captain Miller (Tom Hanks), is given the rescue mission of leading his 2nd Ranger battalion through Nazi occupied territory to find Ryan and send him home.
Spielberg is, quite simply, one of the finest filmmakers that has ever graced the craft. He is, and will continue to be, heralded throughout generations of audiences and that's with very good reason, as he's instilled a sense of awe and unadulterated entertainment for over 40 years now. Despite an impressive backlog of movies that consists of such classics like "Jaws", "Close Encounters...", "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and "E.T", the opening 25 minutes of "Saving Private Ryan" - where he thrusts us into the 1944 D-Day landings of Omaha Beach - is arguably his most impressive and certainly his most visceral work. It's absolutely exhausting in it's construction and sense of realism and the realisation soon sets in, that this cinematic autuer is not about to pull any punches in portraying a time in history that's very close to his heart. The opening is so commanding that some have criticised the film for not living up this grand and devastating scale but Spielberg has many more up his sleeve. He's just not able to deliver them too close together - otherwise, the film would be absolutely shattering and very difficult to get through. To bridge the gap between breathtaking battles scenes the film falls into a rather conventional storyline about men on a mission but it's only purpose is to keep the film flowing and allows Spielberg the ability to make the brutality of war more personal. Two scenes in particular, are as overwhelming as the opening to the film: the hand-to-hand combat between a German soldier and Private Mellish (played by Adam Goldberg) and the deeply emotional and ironic injuries of T-4 Medic Wade (played by Giovanni Ribisi). These moments in the film are the most difficult to watch but they only really work because we are allowed the time to bond with the characters beforehand and experience the combat with them. Each of them have a particular but very different appeal, making it harder to accept when some of them perish in savage and harrowing circumstances.
The cast also deserve the utmost praise for making the roles their own; the always reliable Hanks is solid in the central role and there are exceptional performances from the first rate support, namely, Barry Pepper and the aforementioned Goldberg and Ribisi, who are all outstanding.
Janusz Kaminski's magnificent cinematography is also starkly delivered; his images are both beautifully and horrifically captured and Spielberg's decision to desaturate the colour and adopt some handheld approaches, add an authenticity that's rarely been captured in the genre and brings another dimension to some of the finest and most realistic battle scenes ever committed to the screen.
There's not much in the way of criticism that I can throw at this near masterpiece, other than Robert Rodat's script; the conventional plot strays into cliche where the Germans are completely stereotypical and there is absolutely no sign of an Allied soldier anywhere. Rodat would have you believe that America fought the war singlehandedly, but despite these discrepancies, the film has so much power that these faults can be overlooked.
One of the darkest chapters in our history is viscerally captured in a raw and uncompromising piece of work from a virtuoso director, tapping into the highest of his abilities. Some may prefer the more fantastical and escapist nature of Spielberg, but for me, this is the finest film he's made.
After the massive box-office flop of "Toys" in 1992 and the… MoreAfter the massive box-office flop of "Toys" in 1992 and the overlooked, straight to dvd, "Jimmy Hollywood", director Barry Levinson seemed to be in need of some stronger material. As a result, he decided on a couple of adaptations; the first was Michael Crichton's "Disclosure" followed by "Sleepers", the controversial novel by Lorenzo Carcaterra, which served as a reminder that Levinson still had something to offer.
Growing up in Hell's Kitchen, four close friends, Shakes (Joe Perinno), Michael (Brad Renfro), John (Geoffrey Wigdor) and Tommy (Jonathan Tucker) fill their days playing pranks and making their own entertainment. However, one of their pranks lead to a man getting seriously injured and they are sentenced to time in the Wilkenson Detention Centre in upstate New York. In the centre they are subjected to beatings and sexual abuse by the guards. Over ten years later, two of the boys take revenge on one of them (Kevin Bacon), which drags up the past and involves everyone they know.
What we have with "Sleepers" is a stellar cast, a more than capable director and a story that's purportedly based on fact. There's really not that far you can wrong in these instances but, unfortunately, it's the "based on fact" angle that let's this film down. Everything else is handled with skill, but no matter how well it's delivered, it leaves an aroma that smells vaguely of garbage. It's too far fetched and under closer scrutiny and investigation, the events that writer Lorenzo Carcaterra claims to be true, are unfounded. There simply isn't any evidence of them. Now, if this film just played out as a piece of storytelling then that issue wouldn't exist and you'd be able to sit back and enjoy what this film has to offer. And what it has to offer is plentiful. The cinematography by (Scorsese regular) Michael Ballhaus, captures the look and feel for the times that reflect, in some ways, an urban version of "Stand By Me" in the earlier part of the film and Levinson does a very professional job on his direction duties. Where his strength lies is in drawing out brilliant performances from his impressively assembled cast: Throughout an abundance of familiar names, it's Patric (playing writer, Carcaterra) that get's the most focus but the rest still get enough to work with; Bacon verges on the stereotypical side but still channels an effective sadistic presence; Pitt, in a lesser role (when he was still on the rise) captures the cocksure arrogance required and the always reliable and masterful Hoffman brings a lot of depth and humour with his subtle mannerisms. At the risk of sounding biased, though, it's DeNiro that impresses most as the avuncular priest, Father Bobby. He delivers one of the most endearing and charismatic performances of his career and happens to have a moment in the film where his expression is solely focussed on, as he hears about the tragic and abusive events that took place. He doesn't utter a word, but his pain, anguish and compassion is expressed entirely and powerfully within his eyes. The only drawback amongst the performances is that the greats of DeNiro and Hoffman don't get a chance to share much screen time together. (In fairness, Levinson rectified this in his later movie "Wag The Dog" and subsequently they have shared the screen in the "Meet The Parents" sequels). These two fantastic actors have never really went toe-to-toe on dramatic terms, though, and this film seems like a missed opportunity on that level. As for the structure itself, it's a film of two halves; the first concentrating on the boys' high jinks (again, with great performances from it's young actors - Joe Perrino and Brad Renfro being the standouts) while the latter half descends into a formulaic courtroom drama which stretches credulity and eschews any form of logic in order to deliver the drama. It's during this, that the "true" nature of the story becomes seriously questionable and we're also left with an overhanging, dubious message on justice. Despite these issues, though, there are many highlights to be found and at nearly two and half hours long, it's never dull. Whether or not it's true is another matter but at the very least, Carcaterra has written an emotional and involving tale.
Flawed and uneven with a conclusion that simply doesn't convince, but if you're able to sidestep these faults then there's still a great film at it's core.