Moving, insightful, brilliantly acted, and well conceived, The… MoreMoving, insightful, brilliantly acted, and well conceived, The Imitation Game is a biopic done right. Set mostly during the midst of World War II, Imitation Game serves to tell the tale of a man whose contributions to the war were profound, yet never properly understood, and lost against the fanfare of his later legal proceedings.
Like a lot of biopics, Imitation Game is fast and loose with historical accuracy. Turing's contributions can't be denied, but he was hardly alone in the efforts to break the Enigma code. However, this dramatic license serves the story and gives us a compelling narrative through which we can better appreciate the history. The direction fills the screen with humor, authentic dramatic moments, and genuine insights in to ourselves. At which point does someone's power make them a hero, or make them a tragedy? War is exceptional at clouding this very thing.
The script is smart and poignant, and the performances impeccable, notably from Benedict Cumberbatch. The film might simplify events, but it doesn't spoon-feed its audience, nor shy away from the nuance to be felt in the code breaker's actions, as knowing everything and acting on everything are two different things.
Compelling, powerful, and memorable.
A familiar story told in an unconventional way, Exodus: Gods and Kings… MoreA familiar story told in an unconventional way, Exodus: Gods and Kings is a film of vast visual appeal and technical achievement, yet also a reminder of why story-telling must never take the back-seat. Based on the biblical story of Moses and the exodus of the Hebrews, directory Ridley Scott seeks to invigorate the classic story with his interpretation, leading to mixed results.
The best way to sum up Exodus is to say that the film should be better than it is. The cast is strong, as is most anything with Christian Bale, the CGI cutting edge, and the overall visual aesthetics bordering on breathtaking. After all, Ridley Scott is a master of enthralling epics, and has proven himself mightily in period pieces of the past. To be sure, it's very watchable, and the world building is impressive. But the film leaves you wanting.
The prime reason the film fails to really enliven and transcend its source material, is that it lacks anything really interesting to say. The scenes feel a bit rushed, the characterizations shallow, and the inner conflict of Moses rather haphazard. It departs from the Bible on several occasions, but doesn't seem to justify its departure in any interesting way. What the film is saying about God, freedom, family, and its protagonist is all a bit muddled. We never get a sense that the events are as impacting on its characters as they should be. For something that has been done before, you would think that Scott would have had more to offer.
A fan of mature filmmaking, and fast becoming a trailblazer of it,… MoreA fan of mature filmmaking, and fast becoming a trailblazer of it, director J.C. Chandor continues to impress with A Most Violent Year. Unlike what the title would suggest, A Most Violent Year is a slow burn of a film, concerned with the psychology of its subject rather than violence as a vehicle. The film focuses on the efforts of a businessman to hold on to what he has amidst aligning forces threatening to ruin all that he has worked for.
The film distinguishes itself through its smart script and excellent performances. The film serves as a meditation on not only crime, but what it takes to both achieve and sustain the American dream. Its' protagonist, Abel Morales, tries to keep himself above water in a system and a climate that thrives on tearing down those on top. Unlike most similarly themed films, Morales is able to resist these temptations to a large degree, and that is what makes him so fascinating. This theme, that of self-control and the strength it requires, is found throughout.
Methodically paced, the film is a slow burn. The film is dialogue-driven, and rests on its lead, with Oscar Isaac giving an Oscar worthy performance. While the film does lack in the back-story of Morales and his family, it manages to offer a uniquely conceived story to a saturated genre.
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.