With the Cleveland Browns having the seventh pick in the upcoming… MoreWith the Cleveland Browns having the seventh pick in the upcoming draft, General Manager Sonny Weaver Jr.(Kevin Costner) is looking at taking either Vontae Mack(Chadwick Boseman) or Ray Jennings(Arian Foster). In no uncertain terms, Anthony Molina(Frank Langella), the team's owner, tells him that he has to make a splash in the draft. That opportunity arises when the Seahawks trade the Browns their number one pick overall for the Browns' next three number one picks. Aside from further alienating his head coach, Vince Penn(Denis Leary), this gives Brian Drew(Tom Welling), the Browns' current quarterback rehabbing his knee, the feeling he is not wanted any more as the consensus number one pick is Bo Callahan(Josh Pence), a Heisman trophy winning quarterback. At least, Sonny gets some good news from Ali Parker(Jennifer Garner), the team's salary cap manager, in that not only can the team afford to sign Callahan but that she is pregnant with Sonny's baby.
Watching the NFL Draft on television is like being stuck on line at the DMV in front of a couple of know-it-alls with Marshall McLuhan nowhere to be found. By comparison, "Draft Day," even with the media whoring(not as bad as I originally feared but I think Werner Herzog instead of Chris Berman should have read the introduction), is an entertaining, suspenseful, if more than a little predictable movie. While getting a lot of details right about pro football, especially the pressures faced by general managers, how much a crap shoot the draft is and the role perception plays in drafting a player, a late sequence goofs when it comes to the space time continuum.(As improbable as some of this sounds, the movie points out that crazier things have happened.) Underneath all of that, there is a surprisingly mature and old-fashioned romantic comedy waiting to get out, aided by the strong chemistry between Jennifer Garner and Kevin Costner. That's even with Sonny having an awful lot on his plate for just one day.(Not to mention supplying my now second favorite curse phrase of all time.) And then there is Ellen Burstyn who threatens to steal every scene she is in.
Disclosure: I am a proud Cleveland Browns fan and have the psychological scars and John Elway voodoo doll to prove it.(As such, there is no way I can hate the Seattle Seahawks for maybe the next thirty years.) As far as the cast goes, I am a fan of Alias, Arrow, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Pushing Daisies and Veep.
Wandering around a de-electrified Berkeley, Max Waters(Paul Bettany)… MoreWandering around a de-electrified Berkeley, Max Waters(Paul Bettany) thinks back on happier times when his friends Will(Johnny Depp) and Evelyn Caster(Rebecca Hall) were the toast of the nerd world. But at a conference, Will is shot as part of a concerted terrorist attack that also claims the lives of several of their colleagues. At first, he recovers nicely from the grazing shot but soon falls ill which is due to polonium poisoning. With only weeks left for Will to live, Max and Evelyn spring into action.
Strange as it may sound, "Transcendence" is first and foremost a moving love story, which Rebecca Hall makes work through sheer force of will. As such, the movie is about the crazy things we do for love. Except this time the stakes are incredibly high with the movie's message being that playing god is a huge no-no.(Max, the conscience of the movie, wears a crucifix around his neck.) The terrorists, falling prey to both the law of unintended consequences and irony, fail to realize exactly how high the stakes were either before they started killing people. But just as you think you might have seen it all before, the movie has some new tricks up its sleeves that manage to keep things interesting.
In "Under the Skin," a beautiful young woman(Scarlett Johansson)… MoreIn "Under the Skin," a beautiful young woman(Scarlett Johansson) drives around Glasgow, asking for directions to the highway of men on the street. Occasionally, she takes one home with her...
Okay guys, calm the hell down and cancel your travel plans to Scotland. It's not what you think. Actually, it's much worse and something you couldn't even imagine.
Because she is not human. Not even remotely close. But she looks human after taking the form of a slain prostitute in order to lure men back to her lair to provide skins for more of her kind, as perhaps the first step in an upcoming invasion.
In its conventional three act structure, "Under the Skin" proves once and for all that being human is more than just skin deep.(If only her superiors had given her a user's manual to the human body instead of just the one for the van she drives.) That is in service of an excellent symbolic deconstruction of human mating habits as seen from a very alien viewpoint, without ignoring the darker aspects of humanity. What helps immensely is the movie's exacting eye for detail in everyday lives. And then there is Scarlett Johansson who gives a good performance in a deceptively difficult role, as it is probably not as easy it looks to play a completely blank slate.
Depending on who you talk to in 1921, Florence Cathcart(Rebecca Hall)… MoreDepending on who you talk to in 1921, Florence Cathcart(Rebecca Hall) is either a hero or the devil incarnate. That's what comes from busting up supernatural hoaxes for a living. For Robert Mallory(Dominic West), she is hope. See, at the boarding school he teaches at in Scotland, there have been reports of a ghost for years that has also recently resulted in the death of a student. At least, when she finally decides to take the case, Maud(Imelda Staunton), the school matron, is also happy to see her, as she is a fan of her work.
On the plus side, "The Awakening" emphasizes atmosphere and psychology over horror in its exploration of broken people putting their lives back together after World War I, dwarfing anything 'Downton Abbey' would attempt on the delicate subject.(And why do we need to invent hell when there are already wars and boarding schools?) All of which gives Rebecca Hall the chance to play the hero for once which she does with verve.
But at the same time, "The Awakening" forgets the first rule of any genre film which is to keep it as simple as possible. The problems start with the awful and cliched introductory sequence which establishes this as a movie that will rely on deception too much for its own good. That leads to the story confusing things so much that it lacks much in the way of common sense. Just because the movie ties itself into a bow instead of a knot, that does not mean it ends on a good note.
In occupied France, Younes(Tahar Rahim) works in the black market.… MoreIn occupied France, Younes(Tahar Rahim) works in the black market. During an immigration dragnet, he is arrested while his cousin Ali(Farid Larbi) escapes. Younes is given a choice, either cooperate with the authorities and spy for them or be deported. He chooses to stay and is assigned to infiltrate the mosque presided by Ben Ghabrit(Michael Lonsdale). It is there that Younes encounters Salim(Mahmoud Shalaby), a young singer, using a dabrouka as a calling card.
"Free Men" has a few things going for it, like its unique angle on occupied France, just as nationalism for North Africa was starting to kick into gear with immigrants being pulled in two separate directions at once. But even with a milieu as neat as this one, you need a decent story which is missing here. Plus, the lead character is more than a little lacking.(Whether this is because Younes is only a composite character and Salim and Ben Ghabrit were real people is up for debate.) But then somebody should have told Michael Lonsdale, possibly miscast as he is, that this wasn't his movie, as he steals it simply through the careful application of quiet dignity.
In "Silent Souls," Aist(Igor Sergeev) is the son of a famous poet.… MoreIn "Silent Souls," Aist(Igor Sergeev) is the son of a famous poet. Having failed to write anything of his own, Aist works in a paper factory. While making time with a female security guard, he is called to the office of Miron(Yuriy Tsurilo), his boss. It's not about that, however. See, Miron's younger wife Tanya(Yuliya Aug) has just died and he needs help in attending to the appropriate funeral rites. Since this might take a few days, Aist, takes along the birds, buntings, that he just bought.
"Silent Souls" is a rather beguiling movie. If it is oddly so, it is perhaps the way an outsider, or the viewer, sees the customs shown which are fading away in this modern world.(The scene in the box store exemplifies this clash of worlds.) In any case, the narration is definitely necessary, as else we might come to a thoroughly different conclusion as to what is really happening.(Like for instance, that Miron murdered the unhappy Tanya which I am not entirely ruling out.) We see all of this mostly over the characters' shoulders which does make it kind of hard to focus on them at times while the movie's deliberate pace does wonders in establishing a keen sense of loneliness. Even with the funereal mood, I am wondering how seriously to take the movie at times, considering the awful poetry, not as bad as Vogon poetry, mind you, but still bad, which is pretty ridiculous.
With one child, Jiale(Koh Jia Ler), being a pain in the neck and… MoreWith one child, Jiale(Koh Jia Ler), being a pain in the neck and another one on the way, Hwee Leng(Yann Yann Yeo) decides to hire a maid, Teresa(Angeli Bayani) who is from the Philippines to help with the housework and to pick up Jiale from school which he does not cooperate with.(Upon hiring her, Hwee Leng confiscates her passport whose numbers she uses for the lottery.) While Hwee Leng has the unthankful task of having to type out pink slips at work, her husband Teck(Tian Wen Chen) also has more than his share of troubles at his sales job before he himself loses his job.
While by no means a reinvention of cinema, "Ilo Ilo" makes the most of its familiar plot in order to tell an endearing story about family that demonstrates ably how people can turn out to surprise you. This is in Singapore, a multicultural country without any apparent traditions of its own. What is universal about the story is how people gamble on both the lottery and the stock market(the movie is set in 1998 during the Asian Financial Crisis) no matter where you go which only end up adding to their troubles.
"The Retrieval" starts in Virgnia in 1864 with young Will(Ashton… More"The Retrieval" starts in Virgnia in 1864 with young Will(Ashton Sanders) seeking shelter at a station on the Underground Railroad which turns out to actually be a ruse for Burrell(Bill Oberst Jr.), a bounty hunter he works for, to recapture escaped slaves. That night Will and his partner Marcus(Keston John) enjoy the profits of their labor. But not for long, as Burrell has another job for them in locating and returning Nate(Tishuan Scott), another escaped slave, with the threat of death hanging over them if they do not succeed.
"The Retrieval" is a suspenseful and unpredictable period piece. As far as history goes, it conveys that also in naturalistic tones of an era where it is much more about survival than judgment for the characters. The nuanced tone leads to a movie where less is more, not only as far as dialogue is concerned, especially in its exquisite opening sequence. In any case, it is a little difficult to carve out some of the backstories amongst the deceptions and lies. At the center of which is Will seeking his lost father amongst surrogates at a personal and moral crossroads while the United States is at its own crossroads.
Even with her imminent engagement to Van(Bill Camp), this looks like… MoreEven with her imminent engagement to Van(Bill Camp), this looks like it will turn out to be a very long day for Sandra(Ann Dowd) in her job managing a fast food restaurant in Ohio. That starts with food spoiling from the night before leading to a critical shortage of pickles and bacon. And then Police Officer Daniels(Pat Healy) calls to report that Becky(Dreama Walker), one of her employees, has been accused of stealing from a customer. Taking her to the side, Sandra cannot find the missing money in her belongings, so Daniels tells her the search will have to be more thorough...
The first thing they tell you(or should) in any creative writing class is that just because an event happened in real life does not automatically mean it will make for a good story. Case in point: "Compliance" which is inspired by true events(According to the endnote, something like this has happened at least 70 times.) and does not make for convincing drama in the least, even if it probably gets the day to day operations of a fast food restaurant right. In fact, with the movie observing events from a comfortable distance, it comes off as condescending, wondering how the characters could have possibly let this happen. And then it pushes things beyond simply an R-rated PSA into the dubious realm of exploitation.
For their thirtieth anniversary, Nick(Jim Broadbent) and Meg(Lindsay… MoreFor their thirtieth anniversary, Nick(Jim Broadbent) and Meg(Lindsay Duncan) travel to Paris by train. And then promptly get lost trying to find their hotel. What they do find is definitely on the anti-climactic side, especially after a long climb up the stairs. In trying to find something more suitable to their tastes, they find a hotel to their liking but there are no vacancies. Luckily for them, a suite opens up for them which will do after assurances that it has been sanitized since Tony Blair stayed there.
"Le Week-end" is a thoughtful movie that nails the intricacies and bargains of any long term relationship, in this case involving two people at a crossroads in their lives who feel that life has simply passed them by.(Mortality is an important theme, especially after visitng the cemetery to look in on Nick's heroes.) Since they feel they have no future left, with Nick facing early retirement due to an insensitive statement to a student, they act recklessly like teenagers. Some of that might have to do with the lack of perspective on their own situations, exemplified in the dueling speeches that serve as the de facto emotional climax of the movie. None of which would be as successful without the right actors at the top of their respective games in the leads. Now, if only I could figure out what all the climbing and descending stairs is supposed to mean.