Surprisingly poignant, executed well, and maturely conveyed,… MoreSurprisingly poignant, executed well, and maturely conveyed, Concussion is a surprising film. The film follows the exploits of a married lesbian woman who gets in to prostitution, for complicated reasons. Such a plot line sounds like a good example for a simple exploit film or one-note gimmick, but in Concussion, it is taken to a serious conclusion.
The most surprising aspect of the film is, without question, the performance by Robin Weigert. She inhibits her character with a grounded presence. She's charming, honest, curious, and hopelessly restless. The film's success hinges entirely on this performance, and fortunately, it works. She brings a complexity to the role that underscores the journey of her character, and represents a character that we can't help but like. Her arc feels organic to the story, and is written well. We see the events as felt of Weigert's character, with the film refusing to give easy resolutions or obvious emotional beats.
The film's failures lie in the other characters of the film. Weigert's role aside, the other characters are not developed. We never truly understand their relationship with Robin, and the dynamics between them are never fully explored, and never seem to resonate on as deep of a level as one would like. Simply put, we lose emotional context for much of what happens, making the ending feel disjointed and oddly ineffective.
An overall solid film, especially for Weigert's performance, but with supporting cast flaws.
Strange, profoundly abstract, and inaccessible on a narrative level,… MoreStrange, profoundly abstract, and inaccessible on a narrative level, Upstream Color is a hard film to describe, and a chore to analyze. The film revolves around an unlikely couple, who both share a bizarre affliction from an obscure organism. It's a film that is not concerned with coherence, with traditional narrative, or with resolution. Like Tree of Life, it's a film that requires a complete surrender in order to be appreciated. In that sense, what success Upstream Color achieves is because of your pure immersion in its nebulous and chillingly veiled world.
Trying to follow Upstream Color in a narrative sense is a fairly impossible task, especially on its first viewing. This inaccessibility was frustrating, at first, but waned after the film's daring, bold, and spellbinding atmosphere took center stage. When taken on its own terms, the film is an entertaining experience. The score is magnificent, accentuating the narrative, and taking the place of the sparse dialogue. Director Shane Carruth is masterful in his editing, seamless in his cuts, and brilliant in his pace. We are shown a series of captivating scenes and images, with little to no sense of context or place, only to be left mesmerized. The film gets away with doing this both because of the skill of its composition, but also in that its clues start to paint a larger mosaic towards the end, pointing to a picture which starts to emerge.
The characters in Upstream Color feel real, and are very well portrayed. We see the enormous struggles they've gone through, the confusion they face every day, and yet the resilience they show. The "sampler" character in particular is very enigmatic, embodying the film as a whole. Carruth does a good job keeping the attention focused on these characters, such that we resonate with their journey, even though we don't understand what is exactly taking place.
My obvious reservation about Upstream Color is that the film is too inaccessible. It's difficult to distinguish illusion from reality, even at the ending of the film. Without a more refined ending, the film's interpretations are simply too large. Had a little more been explained, the film could still have kept its mystique, while allowing for greater audience appreciation.
J.C. Chandor's All is Lost is a uniquely conceived, quiet, and yet… MoreJ.C. Chandor's All is Lost is a uniquely conceived, quiet, and yet largely effective survival story. What we are entreated to is a story of which we know little of the background, essentially only that by a sort of freak accident, the protagonist, played by Robert Redford, finds himself lost at sea, left to battle the elements alone. It's a film of next to no dialogue, but seriously and maturely delivered.
With All Is Lost, we see a story that feels all too real, and daring in its reluctance to adhere to Hollywood norms. This is the most laudable aspect of the film. It does not condescend to the audience, refusing to give us an endearing back-story, and refusing to have any main-land flashbacks. What we see is exactly what is going on. The performance by Robert Redford, essentially the only cast member, is a powerful one. He inhibits his scenes with authority, presence, and tragedy. We admire his will, and despair at his misfortune.
My reservations with All Is Lost, however, is that I felt it was a little too quiet. While I appreciated the maturity to stick to the very basic story, some of the film's elements seemed lost amidst this idea. The opening narration, for example, detailing the letter, is never given any proper context. The balance between restraint and helping to give context to Redford is never fully achieved, had the film spent even a little time on this, it would have been stronger. We never fully got a sense of Redford's emotions beyond his base emotions, and this made the film less resonate in the end, especially with its apparently intentionally ambiguous ending.
Monuments Men is the type of film you are anxious to love. Its cast is… MoreMonuments Men is the type of film you are anxious to love. Its cast is impeccable, its premise teaming with potential, and its setting exciting. What we hope for is something enthralling, intense, and insightful regarding one of the more forgotten aspects of the War. Instead, we get a film that seems almost flippant with its material, cavalier in its execution, and lazy in its storytelling. It's sometimes fun, occasionally engaging, and sparsely thrilling, yet never consistent. Put simply, it's a letdown.
The biggest indictment of Monuments Men is the underutilization of the cast. Featuring such greats as George Clooney, John Goodman, Matt Damon, and Bill Murray, the film has an immense amount of acting talent. Clooney's direction and script, however, scarcely give any character any room to breathe. The characterizations are shallow, everyone seems one-note. The way we are introduced to them feels gimmicky, the character arcs (what there is) feel forced. There's chemistry, to be sure, and the cast makes the film serviceable, yet the talent is never fully used. No one has an opportunity to show any dramatic depth, a huge fault of the script.
The script specifically feels lazy. The way the scenes are set up are largely devoid of ingenuity. Things happen too quickly and too conveniently. This is best seen in the opening scene with George Clooney addressing FDR, an absurdly easy and hammy exposition. The story has no real sense of maturity or restraint, but continually feels the need to feed us tired plot devices. Nothing feels really organic to the story, but rather necessary notes for a predictable narrative. The direction is also quite poor as well, going from scene to scene in a rushed way, failing to build any real tension. The film's tone is also sporadic, ranging from lighthearted to melodramatic, and only occasionally achieving either.
For all its faults, Monuments Men does deliver some entertaining moments, with a few impacting scenes. The film is thus watchable, and mostly enjoyable, although superficially so. The problem lies in its lack of any serious delivery, failing to live up to its full potential.
Often compelling, but intermittently over-the-top and ill-scripted,… MoreOften compelling, but intermittently over-the-top and ill-scripted, Labor Day is the sort of film that easy to engage with, but often frustrating in its final impact. Centering on a 13 year old boy, who witnesses his single mother (Kate Winslet) becoming increasingly dejected and reclusive following her estrangement from the boy's father. Enter an escaped convict, Josh Brolin, and the pair eventually start a romance.
The film's initial premise is an interesting one, and one that holds a lot of potential with such talents as Josh Brolin and Kate Winslet. The two have a large amount of chemistry, with their dynamic forming the most successful thing about the film. The character exploration of Winslet in particular is quite effective, giving us someone who feels all too real, with a very identifiable set of emotions. Her relationship with Brolin is largely well done, save for some stilted moments at the start of the film, and makes for compelling viewing.
The biggest struggle for Labor Day are the narrative points involving the boy, and the third act. Gattlin Griffith struggled a great deal with his role as Henry Wheeler, stiff in his approach and stilted in his execution. To be sure, the script doesn't do him any favors, having him act in increasingly strange ways. The entire plot and trajectory of Labor Day take a large step back with its third act, which unfolds as a series of bizarre comedy of errors. The sheer idiocy of some of the actions not only feel melodramatic, but simply make no logical sense. The film pays this off by an absurd ending, leaving us with a sense of bewilderment as to what happened.
Still, despite its many flaws, one cannot help but feel entertained by the film's central dynamic, and heartfelt story. The performances of Brolin and Winslet do a lot to mask the notable flaws of the film.