An independent, low budget film, Samuel Bleak is the story of a… MoreAn independent, low budget film, Samuel Bleak is the story of a disheveled man, whose tragic past reveals a sordid tale of abuse and neglect, set against a charming, if not creepy, small southern town. It's surprisingly well acted, and has a number of flourishes to it that make the potential all the more real. The problem, however, is that Samuel Bleak becomes too bogged down in itself, and unpolished product with too many side trails.
What I appreciated most about Samuel Bleak was the acting. For such a low-budget film, the actors assembled all do a serviceable job, with David Zayas having the strongest performance. For his part, Dustin Schuetter had an uneven part, with his lack of real acting experience and depth becoming increasingly evident as the story focused more on him.
The film's direction was strongest in its tone and pace. Schuetter did a fair job of giving the film a very methodical pace and atmospheric feel, with the scenes all feeling weighted. The world created feels very meditative, and surprisingly well realized.
The problem, however, was Samuel Bleak was unfocused. The initial premise is intriguing, and the third act offered a genuinely surprising twist, but the film felt compelled to introduce too many subplots. None of these subplots ever panned out, and felt clunky. Schuetter also resorted to a number of plot contrivances, such as an absurdly forced romance, that undermined the film and made it feel unpolished. Had a couple of screenplay re-writes taken place, Samuel Bleak might have been a stronger product.
It's these clichés and contrivances that make the story and production sometimes feel amateurish. The film still manages to keep some dramatic heft alive with its good performance and earnest story-telling, but the limitations of its young director are felt throughout.
An interesting, yet not entirely successful, indie film.
Energetic, funny, relentlessly cool and yet too cute for its own good,… MoreEnergetic, funny, relentlessly cool and yet too cute for its own good, Focus is a con movie that takes you for a ride and never slows down enough to take in all the scenery. When experienced con man, Nicky, takes a novice bombshell beauty on his wings, we are left only with twists, turns, and confusion.
What Focus does well is in the world it creates. It's characters are vibrant, its settings feel real, and the cons are done so slickly, so as to almost take away from the occasionally laughable plausibility. Simply put, it's a damn cool movie. The direction is sharp, quick and engaging. The performances are pitch perfect, with the dynamic between Smith and co-star Margot Robbie, being the highlight of the film. We never cease to be entertained and the cons themselves, though often unrealistic, have thought in them.
My problem with Focus is that fell in love with its own cleverness. The cons got increasingly far fetched, and the twists stopped to serve the narrative, and instead felt lazy and gimmicky. At times it reminded me of many of the same pitfall of Now You See Me, though with far better execution. Luckily the film's strengths ultimately outweigh the script's deficiencies.
Fun all around.
Nothing can get the blood boiling more than the notorious Kids for… MoreNothing can get the blood boiling more than the notorious Kids for Cash scandal, in which a Juvenille Court Judge allegedly sent countless kids to lock-up for very minor offenses in exchange for a financial kickback. This documentary seeks to give a broader view to the scandal, and presents a well argued critique about the juvenile justice system.
What is most unique about Kids for Cash are the interviews they secured from the judges in question, namely Mark Ciavarella. Civararella argues passionately that, while he improperly took money, that is was not a quid pro quo. In light of evidence, this seems dubious, but the documentary is more than even-handed. What I liked most was the interviews with the parents and kids that were affected, set against those that argue for senseless policies such as "zero tolerance". The result is a compelling piece, well structured and maturely executed.
Where the film could have been stronger, however, is in the examination of private prisons themselves. They inherently lead to corruption and represent a system in which there is a built in incentive for incarceration.
Visceral, impacting, and relentlessly intense, American Sniper is a… MoreVisceral, impacting, and relentlessly intense, American Sniper is a film that, save for the war it was set in, would always be universally lauded. It's yet another triumph for Clint Eastwood, whose style of direction makes him perhaps the greatest populist director of our time.
Outside controversy aside, one has to look at American Sniper on its cinematic terms first. It's a film that takes its time to unfold, with a methodical buildup, followed by periods of outstandingly filmed action. Eastwood has just the right pace, a pitch perfect tone, and a uniquely conceived vision. The performances are all strong, with a brilliant showing from Bradley Cooper. His change in appearance is jaw-dropping, as is the way he absolutely embodies the character of Chris Kyle.
The dramatic relationships feel well realized, the dynamics seem authentic. The film's problems are undoubtedly related to its artistic license. Its view of the Iraq War isn't exactly nuanced. While it doesn't go out of its way to be jingoistic, there are certainly hints of that, at least conveyed through its protagonist of Chris Kyle. The enemy does seem to be one-note, and the film fails to explore just how sincere the motivations for the conflict were, or what good ultimately came from the intervention. The film's version of Kyle is also somewhat dubious, especially in light of the court case his estate lost with Jesse Ventura, a story found in his autobiography and one that would certainly raise questions about overall credibility.
Ultimately, a powerful film if nothing else.
Sparsely funny, The Interview is a film in which the adage of "much… MoreSparsely funny, The Interview is a film in which the adage of "much ado about nothing" seems to fit perfectly. The controversy surrounding it undoubtedly gave it more attention than it would otherwise garner on its own merits, perhaps enough to give the pure cynics reason to suspect a publicity stunt was afoot. Ultimately, it's not a terrible film, it does enough to get by, but nothing memorable is to be had. The humor is mostly one-note, mostly immature sex jokes and potty humor, and the lampooning of the horrendous North Korea leaves much to be deserved. What makes it watchable is the chemistry between Rogan and Franco, but that's not enough to make up for a bad script.
A rare example of a romantic comedy done in a fresh,… MoreAbout Time
A rare example of a romantic comedy done in a fresh, memorable, and heartfelt way, About Time is an immensely enjoyable film. It takes an outlandish premise, that of time travel, and puts it in a narrative context that makes one hardly question it, and actually adds something to the story. Far from being a gimmick, it makes for a genuinely interesting exploration of the meaning of love, free will, death, and the choices we make. The chemistry between Domhnall Gleeson and Rachel McAdams is outstanding, as the two enliven every scene. It's a captivating film, it's an emotional film, and it's a funny film.
Intensity is the word of the day for Nightcrawler, a thriller that… MoreIntensity is the word of the day for Nightcrawler, a thriller that nearly redefines the genre with its thrills. It's a film that is visually captivating, beautifully shot, and entertaining from start to finish.
The film follows a Lou Bloom, a strange, emotionally detached man, who stumbles upon a job one night that forever changes his trajectory, that of selling film of horrendous accidents and crimes to the local news, with the more shocking commanding the greatest price.
The brilliant and Oscar worthy performance by Jake Gyllenhaal anchors every scene. His chilling detachment from what he sees serves as a powerful statement about not only the state of our media, but also our obsession with watching the suffering of others. The film takes you on a ride that seems surreal it is so seamless, and yet feels so real. We are astounded with what is taking place, but feel that somehow, this is a very close commentary on our inner selves. Ingenious, fantastically executed, and riveting from start to finish.
An amazing film.