No God, No Master is the sort of film that clearly has a lot to say, a… MoreNo God, No Master is the sort of film that clearly has a lot to say, a lot of history to convey, yet struggles to do so effectively in a self-contained film. It's a period piece of historical merit, certainly, but also one plagued by a sort of routine by-the-numbers filmmaking that makes it less compelling than it should have been.
Set in the summer of 1919, the film looks at the events following a series of packaged bombs sent to prominent politicians, industry men, and bankers. The ensuing terror unleashes the overzealous attorney general, Alexander Palmer, who subsequently orders the arrest and deportation of thousands of immigrants, termed the Palmer raids. The film clearly sees a parallel to our current situation today, with civil liberties coming under assault in the wake of hysteria arising out of terror. Like the film's protagonist, Agent William Flynn, the film argues for a more restrained, cool-headed approach. Agreed, but I was
hoping it would be conveyed in a dramatically compelling way. Too often with No God, No Master, we feel as if we are being both preached to and lectured at, with dialogue making a point to constantly underline the historical significance. It is a fine line, to be sure, yet I felt the film was too conservative in its approach, despite some generally good performances, especially by David Stratharian.
Overall, the direction was competent, the performances serviceable, and the story interesting. Yet the execution was lackluster, making it a so-so film.
"They look at you and they see what they want to be. They look at me… More"They look at you and they see what they want to be. They look at me and they see what they are."
Fascinating, absorbing, penetrating, tragic, and brilliantly rendered, Oliver Stone's Nixon is a mesmerizing film. The film is a non-linear retelling of Nixon's life, centering on his final year in office. Through flashbacks we see how his tumultuous life, full of successes and failures, shaped his character, and defined his political career. It's an interpretation of history, certainly, but one that feels all too real.
The success of Nixon hinges largely on the central performance by Anthony Hopkins. His portrayal is nothing sort of masterful, embodying a man with a tortured soul. His Nixon is isolated, conflicted, insecure, paranoid, and yet ambitious and capable of enormous resilience. Through this performance, we fully realize the inner turmoil, feel the heartbreak of his upbringing, and begin to understand an incredibly complicated man. His constant ruminations on death, his obsession of living in JFK's shadow, all of this is true to the time. Intimately familiar with the inner workings of the intelligence establishment and the military industrial complex, we understand his paranoia, with its overt overtones to the Kennedy assassination and a sort of secret government behind the scenes.
As history, Stone's Nixon seems to largely hold up. Like his brilliant JFK, there are composite scenes and characters, yet the researched nature of the film is clear. Nixon was flawed, of course, but also audacious in his maneuvers. The result is a tenure that yielded countless blunders, yet also a number of notable achievements. The allusions to the "bay of pigs" thing is most certainly a callback to the JFK assassination, with Nixon obviously knowing much more about the events of that tragic day. As Roger Stone's work, Nixon's Secret details, this was the basis of his later pardon. The treatment of Watergate, however, does seem to have some flaws. While it shows Nixon as aware yet in-over-his head, with an inclination toward abuse of power, Stone fails to see the larger reality that Watergate was undoubtedly a sort of set-up of Nixon, a deliberately botched scheme to bring him down. Ultimately, though, it was the cover-up that brought Nixon down, not the act.
The direction by Stone keeps the film, at 3.5 hours, always engaging and energetically paced. His choices for casting are brilliant, and the script is intelligently written and nuanced. The flashbacks and constant changes of camera angles, a hallmark of Stone films, does occasionally get overdone, yet this is done for a purpose, as if to convey Nixon's frantic inner-self, never at ease with his situation, himself, or those around him.
Overall, it's a thrilling look at one of the most prominent and interesting political personalities of the 20th century.
Melodramatic to a fault, yet performed with skill, and beautifully… MoreMelodramatic to a fault, yet performed with skill, and beautifully rendered, The Immigrant looks at Prohibition-era New York City, with Ellis Island as the country's Mecca for immigrants. Here we find two sisters recently arrived from Poland, looking for their piece of the American dream. When one of them is detained for health reasons, the other (Ewa), is left to her own devices, only to be seduced in to the employee of a mischievous man and, hence, a brothel.
As a period drama, The Immigrant accomplishes strong world-building. The scenery is impressive, the mood feels right, and the characters that inhabit the scene blend in to the times. We see the self-righteous, hypocritical morality of the times, as well as the harsh realities many immigrants face. Yet the film never fully explores this. Instead, it focuses on the dynamic between Ewa (Marion Cotillard) and Bruno (Joaquin Phoenix), and specifically on Ewa's self-hatred. This is never quite as compelling as the film thinks it is, seeming to meander too much on the helplessness of Ewa, and giving us a character in Bruno that is interesting, yet frustratingly inaccessible in his motives. The performances are certainly strong, yet the film would seemingly be better served by expanding its vision to the wider realities of the immigrants.
To achieve its dramatic notes, the film employs a great deal of melodrama, especially towards the end. My problem was that it didn't always feel organic to the story and felt sloppily executed in the final act. Still, the film has great merit in presenting a story with undertones of forgiveness, and a unique look at a very real part of our history. I only wish more focus was on this, with the film's biggest fault being a somewhat thin narrative.
Smartly crafted, intelligently written, methodically paced, and… MoreSmartly crafted, intelligently written, methodically paced, and realistically rendered, A Most Wanted man is a fantastic spy thriller, and an uncommon example of poignant, sharp, and thought-provoking commentary. It's a film of nuance, a film of subtlety, and a powerful last role for Philip Seymour Hoffman.
The film itself is based on the novel by John le Carre, who has penned a voluminous number of thoughtful spy thrillers, such as Tinker Tailor Solider Spy. Like Tinker Tailor, A Most Wanted Man is a skillful adaptation. Its dialogue is rich yet not ostentatious, but rather insightful, penetrating, and befitting of its world. We are given plot, which requires attention to detail, yet a plot that doesn't purposefully seek to obfuscate (as many spy thrillers succumb to), and is more concerned with its over-arching themes. Its' main theme deals with essentially not losing sight of the forest through the trees, as so many bureaucratic systems get bogged in to, settling for the 'easy' win or photo-op, yet ignoring the underlining issues. In this case, there's a number of agencies with different goals, despite seemingly having the same objective. As one of the characters in the film asks, "what is the long-term goal here", to which Hoffman responds that it's to create a "safer world", we see that this, in reality, is exceedingly subjective. In the case of the intelligence community, the film seems to strongly suggest that the goal is rather on the illusion of safety and spectacle than of actually changing outcomes.
The direction by Anton Corbijn creates an absorbing film, with a deliberate pace, yet an appropriate amount of tension. He populates this world of confusion and paranoia with interesting characters, refusing to give us easy protagonists or villains. This is the nuance of the film, giving us relatable characters that all have their own failings and motivations. Thus the film is more concerned with a wider character study of how these players interact than it is with giving us clichéd plot developments or stereotyped personas.
The performances all around are excellent, with Hoffman yet again showing his brilliance. His character, a German intelligence chief, is essentially an ordinary man, yet Hoffman is able to make even the most routine of people captivating, as he captures the utter subtleties, the body language, the expressions, the mannerisms of his character, completely inhibiting the role. His accent is very impressive, and we never for a moment question his authenticity in any way. His portrayal here serves as an excellent example of the range and texture he gave all of his performances.
An overall must see.
Heartfelt from the start, poignant, compelling, and yet strangely… MoreHeartfelt from the start, poignant, compelling, and yet strangely subtle, Railway Man is a film of inspiration and one of melancholy, ending on a profound note, if not always achieving that during its run. Based on the autobiography, Railway Man tells the story of a British officer who was brutally treated as a prisoner of war, returned to his country as a man still deeply troubled, continuing the war in his own mind. Enter the lovely Patti Lomax (Nicole Kidman) who pushes Eric to confront his demeans, culminating in a painful confrontation of his past.
The story is told through flashbacks, used interchangeably. These are frequent, and long lasting, which create two worlds that feel very real and well realized, yet can sometimes feel like separate entities, each with their own self-contained stories. Though this is a noted criticism for many, I found that ultimately the structure worked, and was impressed by the strong performances by the cast in both timelines. All performances are understated, as is the film, yet still powerful, headlined by a terrific performance from Colin Firth.
The pace of the film can be slow at parts, yet dead-on in others. One problem that is created is that the momentum is not always carried over to the other storyline (past and present), with some shifts happening rather sporadically. One such shift was the discovery of Firth's post-traumatic stress, which felt oddly at bay at the beginning of the film. Yet, the film's restrained approach to the story showed a much appreciated respect to letting events unfold organically. The characters feel real, their traumas are real, and the film's message is always carried through.
Ultimately, it's the performances that really carry Railway Man to an effective, and moving film. It's a penetrating character study, an exploration of human nature, and an ultimate triumph for forgiveness.
Liam Nesson. A terrorist. A plane. And a crazy third act--that, in its… MoreLiam Nesson. A terrorist. A plane. And a crazy third act--that, in its essence, is Non-Stop. The film has Liam Nesson as an alcoholic, divorced, and otherwise wayward Air marshal assigned to a transatlantic flight from New York to London. During the flight he receives a number of threatening text messages, demanding a specified amount of money or someone will die every twenty minutes. Enter Neeson to sort it all out--except, there's a twist. He's being set-up as the hijacker.
Of all the things that can be said of Non-Stop, one has to admit that it is, first and foremost, a very entertaining film. The direction by Jaume Collet-Serra has just the right balance of kinetic energy with methodical build-up, and a keen sense of misdirection and paranoia. It never ceases to hold your attention, and, though we may roll our eyes at some of the plot developments, the film is so earnestly told, and executed so well that we largely forgive the many lapses in logic. The action is tight and impacting, the dramatic elements feel more earned than one would expect in a film like this (though certainly riddled with clichés), and the performances, especially from Neeson are compelling. He embodies the anti-hero better than perhaps anyone in Hollywood, and delivers a gruff, flawed, and yet confidently in command man who, despite his outward appearances, manages to rise to the occasion.
So where does the film falter? The script has a number of holes in it (shocking for the genre). To be sure, Non-Stop should be given credit for at least trying to establish some sort of credibility, yet the last act becomes increasingly absurd. The twists at the end rob the film of some of the mystique it had build, giving us a number of interesting red herrings, yet ultimately succumbing to an uninspired resolution.
Still, despite some narrative flaws, it's a largely well done action film that will never lose your attention.
3 Days to Kill is an action film, a dark comedy, and a heartfelt… More3 Days to Kill is an action film, a dark comedy, and a heartfelt family drama. At least, it wants to be. It's a blend of a film that never quite knows what it wants to be, delivering mixed results on screen.
The film sees Kevin Costner as an effective, if gruff and over-the-hill, CIA spy. Like countless other movie spies, this one has a complicated family life, having an estranged wife and daughter. A rare brain tumor leaves him with 3 months left to live, propelling Costner to "get his affairs in order" and re-establish some sort of relationship. Complications ensue when he finds himself suddenly thrust back in the spy game, needing to track down a ruthless terrorist.
Yes, it's derivate, and filled with clichés. The film takes its family undercurrent very seriously, and I actually felt this worked well for the film, mostly because of the performances. Costner was good, and his chemistry with Hailee Steinfeld makes a familiar family dynamic interesting. His other relationships, with his wife, with Amber Heard, and with the other characters in the film, don't work quite as well, however. The entire narrative involving the arms dealing terrorist is never developed to any satisfaction, and we never care about any of the villains or feel like there's really any stakes at play. The whole subplot involving the experimental drug is also helplessly contrived.
Yet, the film is fun. The action is highly competent, even bordering on impressive, and the central performances are strong enough to mask many of the faults. It's flawed, certainly, but manages to do enough right to make it a passable watch.
A big departure for nice guy Jason Bateman, his directorial debut is a… MoreA big departure for nice guy Jason Bateman, his directorial debut is a dark comedy of audacious proportions, often offensive, uncomfortable, and cruel in its delivery. It's a black comedy that wants to shock, and wear that's on its sleeve. The result is a film of debauchery, some interesting moments, and strong central performances, yet a film that never fully hits on the resonance that it tries for.
While the film was occasionally funny, the film's laughs didn't deliver consistently enough to cover up its narrative limitations. The story is never fully developed, we don't understand all of the motivations of the characters, the arcs feel false, and its best moments are never fully earned. Successful black comedies, like the brilliant Bad Santa, provide us with interesting characters, hilarious situations that are earned within the story, and shock that serves a purpose. With Bad Words, what we ultimately get is a few laughs, some good performances, and an entertaining film overall, yet an average comedy. The film feels as if it's trying too hard to shock us, with not enough attention being paid to the message it's trying to send, or the characters it wants us to appreciate.
A marginal recommendation for fans of the genre.
Familiar in its plot, yet unfamiliar in its execution, Guardians of… MoreFamiliar in its plot, yet unfamiliar in its execution, Guardians of the Galaxy is fun, fast, comedic, gruff, and relentlessly charming. It's a true summer action film that represents the classic thrills that made science fiction great, reminiscent of early George Lucas. It's a film of arresting visuals, enjoyable performances, and an earnestly told, heartfelt story.
Set, of course, in the Marvel universe, Guardians of the Galaxy follows Chris Pratt as the 'infamous' (not) Star-Lord in a very Han Solo-esque role, who becomes pursued by a litany of villainous characters after stealing an orb of inexplicable power. Joining him on his quest include an oddball cast of a humanoid tree, a talking raccoon, an ever serious grief stricken father with no sense of sarcasm or irony, and Gamora, a turned agent of Ronan. This cast is enlivened by strong performances from all around, with a sure making of a star in Chris Pratt, and uncanny voice-overs form Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel. The actors all have chemistry, and really chew their scenery by completely inhibiting their roles. There's a seriousness to the film which propels its action, and a dramatic undercurrent that achieves it, yet it's never bogged down by over-exposition, and never takes itself too seriously. The humor is consistent, the set pieces inventive, the CGI impressive, and the story is refreshingly told. The film treats its flashbacks in a unique way, and give us just the right amount of exposition to have appreciation for the scenery and characters, yet doesn't feel the need to spoon-feed the audience.
The film does have some weaknesses in that, like all superhero films, the plot is rather conventional, with yet another universe-threatening device. Yet, the film takes a unique approach at arriving at its conclusions. The characters, though all likeable, do have varying degrees of development, with the villainous characters being the least elaborated on, sometimes frustratingly so. Yet, such is the transient nature of many Marvel villains, while always keeping just the right number of background characters to keep things connected and interesting.
An undeniably fun ride. 4/5 Stars
An exercise in uneven film-making and poor adaptation, Ender's Game is… MoreAn exercise in uneven film-making and poor adaptation, Ender's Game is a frustrating science fiction film that never lives up to its potential, and often doesn't even hint at it. Set in the future, the film presents a world in which the human race had nearly been wiped out by a hostile alien invasion some years earlier, with the leftover society preparing for another possible attack. Looking for a new generation of leaders, and the military seeks to hone the skills of the brightest youth available.
With Ender's Game, we are given Asa Butterfield as Ender, the protagonist. We are told he's the brightest they have, and shows the greatest potential. Yet, like much of the beats of the film, this never feels earned. The academy he is sent to is supposedly composed of near genius prodigies, yet Ender is the only one that shows any marked intelligence. What made him different? Why was he able to be so successful? The film never really shows us, but simply tells us. This is a carried trait throughout the film, never successfully building up to its dramatic moments. Ender's character arc is never fully realized, nor is any of the characters. We never care about any character, because we don't know them. The characterizations are thus shallow, and are executed with awkward dialogue, being delivered by largely unimpressive performances.
The technical elements of Ender's Game are impressive. The sets are well designed, the shots are nicely composed, and the CGI is beautiful. Visually, there's certainly some imagination, yet all of this is placed in a film devoid of compelling characters, a narrative that never finds itself, and a script with no humor or vibrancy, nor texture.