Well-acted, competently composed, but derivative, Before I Go to Sleep… MoreWell-acted, competently composed, but derivative, Before I Go to Sleep does enough to keep you interested for its short run, but not enough to make you remember it much before you decide to go to sleep yourself. When a woman undergoes a horrific accident, suffers a brain disorder causing her short-term memory to be wiped out each day. Left bewildered, she is left to put the pieces together to create one horrible puzzle.
The film certainly has shades of other similarly themed thrillers, such as memento, so it can't be given too much credit for its premise. However, the film does turn in three laudable performances from its better than average cast, headlined by Oscar winners Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth. Their dynamic on screen represents the most exciting aspect of the film, with Kidman selling her role with great skill. The direction is competent, and keeps the film moving at a good solid pace.
The script tries to give us twists and turns, yet they are never as impactful as the film hopes they are. This is due to poor set-up and decreasing realism. It's not lackluster but it's also not distinctive. The film simply does not distinguish itself, we see the major arcs complete before they do, and are ultimately left unimpressed by the ending. All in all, it's an okay film, but not ambitious to stand out.
Exceedingly bleak, weighty, and inaccessible, Calvary is a film that… MoreExceedingly bleak, weighty, and inaccessible, Calvary is a film that feels like it should pack more of a punch than it does. Set in Ireland, the film follows Father James, a good man in a decidedly amoral word, who finds himself staring down the threat of murder through no fault of his own.
Calvary's greatest strength is undoubtedly the performance of Brendan Gleeson, which is rightly described as brilliant. He completely inhibits his role, and greatly humanizes the priesthood in a way that I have not seen before. He anchors the cast around him, who seem to resent his fortitude and strength in their own plights. The writing supplies us with witty dry humor, and the script takes on some tough subjects.
What then, is the problem with Calvary? It feels bleak for the sake of bleak. Redemption, no pun intended, is really nowhere to be found. All of the problems of those in the community, their entire personalities, seem to be mere vehicles for his antagonism. In this sense, the film feels contrived. Its ultimate message is also hard to discern, lacking the execution to really tackle those issues it pretends to have a commentary on. It's simply dreary, with no real greater purpose. We don't empathize with the characters, nor the events they find themselves in, so we ultimately don't feel involved.
Depressing to a fault, inaccessible.
Bleak, dark, gritty and unwavering, The Homesman takes the Western… MoreBleak, dark, gritty and unwavering, The Homesman takes the Western genre an inputs a dramatic tragedy. It's a film that's well acted, has mature ideas and an authentic feel, yet features a narrative that borders on inaccessible in parts and disjointed in others.
In Homesman we find three frontier women driven to insanity from the harsh conditions they face, prompting a need to transport them to care in Iowa from the Nebraska territory. The task falls to the fiercely independent Mary Bee Cuddy, a woman who finds herself a bit too brash for the rest of the townspeople. She soon encounters the somewhat cantankerous George Briggs (Tommy Lee Jones), who accompanies her on the journey.
Directed by Tommy Lee Jones, the film does a fantastic job of capturing the brutal nature of frontier life at the time, and the interesting societal and gender dynamics at play. He populates his film with fine performances, especially among the insane women, who give haunting portrayals. His chemistry with Hilary Swank is palpable, and the beginning promising.
The frustrating part of the film, however, was its lack of complete narrative coherence. Its exact message is a bit murky, and the main protagonist role shifts from Swank to Jones about 2/3 in to the film. The characterization of Swank felt unfinished, and the motivations of Jones are never really answered.
Solid overall, but with scripting problems.
The Two Faces of January represents an interesting exercise in a… MoreThe Two Faces of January represents an interesting exercise in a romantic thriller, one with promising characters and talented leads, yet with an ultimate ho-hum execution which makes it a rather unremarkable entry to the genre. When a low-level con artist meets a wealthy American couple touring Europe, he soon finds himself hopelessly in love with the young the wife, and trouble follows.
The film, adapted from a novel, does a good job of setting a tone. The characters find themselves in increasingly precarious situations and emotions, creating a web of intrigue and complex characterizations. In this sense, the film had a very mature feeling that I appreciated. Its pace was fluid yet methodical, and the overall direction was tight and focused.
What the film lacked for me, however, was a heart. Not in the sense that it was too bleak, but in the sense that one can scarcely determine what the film is trying to say, what it wants to get across. It's almost bleak for the sake of bleak. The chemistry between the leads also leaves a lot to be desired, despite a talented cast, symptomatic of the failure of the script to really make us relate to the characters. We never fully get a grip on what lengths Viggo Mortensen's character is able to go, and the romantic overtones between Kirsten Dunst and Oscar Isaac never ring true. The result is a film which feels competent, but not passionate or original.
Solid in many ways, not particularly memorable.
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.