Tag Archives: GCN

‘Enough Said’ (2013) says so much.

23 Oct

Enough Said posterTell me, dear reader, are you aware of the name Nicole Holofcener? She’s only one of American film’s most compelling writer-directors, yet nobody seems to know who the hell she is. Why is that? Maybe she makes too few films (just five in 17 years). Maybe her witty dialogue seems too artful for the average Cineplex goer. Or maybe it’s because she’s a woman.

Enough Said stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Eva, a divorced masseuse. Upon befriending poetess and potential client Marianne (Catherine Keener) and falling for the infectiously charming Albert (James Gandolfini), she soon discovers that Albert and Marianne used to be married, and they both enjoy weaving detailed yarns about how gross and/or snobbish the other is. Juggling her newfound friendship with her equally fresh romance proves tough, but makes for riveting viewing.

Eva and Albert, a pair of single parents, each have a university-bound daughter flying away to college soon, which underscores not only their need for one another, but also Eva’s longing for a female friend in Marianne. With impending empty nest syndrome breathing down her neck, Eva is slow to give either of them up, all the while prodding Marianne for dirt on Albert. She’s committed to both, even though the two together are slowly but surely poisoning the well.

Enough Said is brimming with memorable performances from everybody concerned. Louis-Dreyfus (who, incidentally, looks like a glorious amalgamation of Tina Fey and Steve Carell) could play lovely in her sleep, but she’s outdone herself this time. Eva may be clumsy and awkward, but she doesn’t let it define her. Her and Albert’s first kiss, on his back-porch step, is adorable in that clunky, maladroit sort of way usually reserved for teenagers in such movies.

As for Gandolfini, approaching this movie without a tinge of melancholy over the late, great actor’s passing is tough. Although his charismatic and lovably goofy personality shines through the dark clouds looming over this posthumous performance, his loss is felt. Future film historians will treat his name with a similar level of reverence they currently hold for Gregory Peck, Marlon Brando and other legendary stars of yesteryear; Enough Said is a fitting legacy.

Golden performances aside, it’s the sheer brains behind this film that captivates. Enough Said is a rarity among romance movies in that it understands how adult relationships actually work in reality. The movie knows full-well that Gandolfini isn’t textbook-attractive and that middle-aged divorced mothers aren’t typical ‘catches’, but as Holofcener is the living master of nuanced subtlety, she writes bucketloads of soul into these characters. It’s easy to see the attraction.

Enough Said is the perfect autumn movie – intelligent and deftly written, deserving of high praise without brazenly demanding Academy Award recognition. It’s up there with Blue Jasmine, Frances Ha and Mud as one of the best dramatic pictures of 2013.

Simon says: it’s great, ’nuff said.

Written for [GCN]

Family Affair; ‘Like Father, Like Son’ (2013).

21 Oct

Like Father, Like Son posterLike Father, Like Son is the latest in a long line of demure, unassuming family dramas from Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda. Much like 2011’s I Wish,his latest enterprise also focuses strongly on the plight of misplaced children, featuring a pair of six year-olds who were incompetently swapped at birth. As the winner of the prestigious Jury Prize at Cannes, does it deliver the promised goods?

You betcha, it does. Like Father, Like Son centres around a busy architect called Ryota Nonomiya (Masaharu Fukushima) who lives with his wife Midori (Machika Ono) and their polite, neatly turned-out son. Keita. A harrowing call from Midori’s former maternity hospital results in the gruelling discovery that Keita is not really her or Ryota’s kid, but biologically belongs to a Mr and Mrs Saiki, who likewise have raised the ‘wrong’ boy. Nature battles nurture in Ryota’s mind as he struggles to reconcile tradition with his own emotions.

Both families rendez-vous at shopping centres and playgrounds in an effort to get along. While both mothers empathise in their shared ordeal, the two dads wage a socio-cultural war of words. Ryoto finds Mr. Saiki buffoonish and irresponsible, while Mr. Saiki finds Ryoto’s arrogant pretension hard to swallow – his ultra modern Tokyo apartment is total anathema to the Saiki family’s barely profitable electronic knick-knack emporium-cottage hybrid.

Like Father, Like Son captures a magic unique to its Japanese setting. A famously patriarchal society, as well as one traditionally obsessed with familial bloodlines, Japan is the ideal artistic soil for planting the seeds of a mismatched children story. Ryota is stereotypically onerous, forcing hated piano lessons on poor Keita and politely demanding dinner upon arriving home. While his archaic behaviour isn’t excused by the geography, it’s certainly contextual.

Mercifully, a vital sense of humour underscores the proceedings; a lack thereof would render Like Father, Like Son a very sombre affair indeed. The Saiki family’s whimsical, happy-go-lucky attitude is perpetually regarded with derision by Ryota, but Kore-eda shoots their personal scenes at home with a playful coyness that’s utterly charming. Rather, it’s Ryota’s insufferable snobbery that the movie lampoons, all the while championing diversity and unorthodoxy.

Spellbinding drama is a tough gig to maintain, and unfortunately Like Father, Like Son wavers and loses focus by the third act. Unnecessary distractions are peppered throughout, from aimless dialogue to gratuitously protracted ‘nothing’ scenes, which culminate in the last half-hour. The film infuriatingly delays the finale and drags out the runtime for no apparent reason other than arbitrary longevity. A generous 20-minute haircut would have really suited.

Whisperings of an upcoming Spielbergian remake of Like Father, Like Son seem somewhat counterintuitive. Although Kore-eda’s traditional ‘absent father’ yarn would place it in familiar Spielberg territory, the delicate finesse displayed here would likely be tarnished by the heavy-handed Hollywood movie-grinding machine. Lets leave the movie as it is – an overlong but gentle, intriguing and fabulously acted examination of Japanese social norms.

Simon says: finally, a refreshing change from the usual scares or cartoons of usual international Japanese cinema.

[Written for GCN]

Monroe Mash-Up; ‘Love, Marilyn’ (2012).

18 Oct

Love, Marilyn posterThere are three types of people in this world: those engaged in eternal mourning for the untimely death of film icon Marilyn Monroe, naysayers who deem her an overrated ‘bowl of hot nothing’ and the mediators who lack an opinion either way. Your enjoyment of Love, Marilyn will rest heavily on whichever bracket you fall into, as well as your tolerance for idolatry.

A documentary about the rise and fall of the ‘50s movie star, Love, Marilyn celebrates the recent discovery of Monroe’s handwritten memoirs. Directed by Liz Garbus and featuring a cavalcade of stars, from Uma Thurman to Paul Giamatti by way of Viola Davis and Elizabeth Banks, Love, Marilyn is essentially a 107-minute lecture on the greatness of the eponymous sex symbol. Don’t think she’s that great? Well, this movie exists to change your mind.

Chock-a-bloc as it is with intriguing tidbits of information, Love, Marilyn proves to be an educational experience for those less steeped in Monroe lore. But owners of countless Marilyn books or furious bloggers who tirelessly defend her will presumably already know everything this movie has to offer. Newfound documents only confirm suspicions that she was more than just a pretty face – there’s no grand revelation or shocking declaration to be found in Love, Marilyn.

What one can expect is a flurry of famous faces reciting lines from Monroe’s personal writings, often adding their own dramatic spin. It works on occasion – Banks, Davis and co. pour buckets of soul into their performances, proving themselves to be Monroe devotees – but asking these talented actors to read a chicken recipe Monroe prepared for Joe DiMaggio, among other random trivialities, is a mistake. It does a disservice to all those involved, living or dead.

By far the most engaging aspect of this film is the gleaned insight into Monroe’s relationships. Having met renowned playwright Arthur Miller at a party following the publication of his Death of a Salesman, the internal workings of their eventual marriage and how they impacted one another creatively, prove to be highlights. Archival interview footage with Miller and Monroe’s former co-star friends feels jarringly real in the face of the sporadically loopy acting dotted throughout.

Swap the comma for an exclamation mark, stick it at the end and you’ve got an infinitely more accurate title for Love, Marilyn – it clobbers you over the head with its unfaltering schmaltz and unwavering reverence. Die-hard Monroe fans will be pleased, and those lacking an opinion on the starlet could indeed be swayed in her favour. Her detractors, however, won’t be budged.

Simon says: ‘LOVE MARILYN!’ would be a far more honest moniker for this love-letter.

[Written for GCN]

Failure to Land; ‘Baggage Claim’ (2013).

15 Oct

Baggage Claim posterWatching Baggage Claim is kind of like being slapped in the face with an insultingly wet fish. First off, it expects you to buy the carved-out-of-marble-gorgeous Paula Patton as a hopelessly single spinster. Secondly, it offers a selection of such innocuous jokes, only a toddler might mistake them as comedy. But it’s the film’s odious and distasteful ridiculing of its predominantly female audience that brings Baggage Claim’s crashing out of the sky, not even thirty seconds into flight time.

Montana Moore (Patton) is an incredibly beautiful flight attendant who finds it impossible to get a date. And, to compound Montana’s fuckless life, her younger sister is getting married in a month’s time, thereby beating her to the altar of heteronormative happiness! So, using her airline connections, our drop-dead gorgeous heroine ‘accidentally’ runs into all her past boyfriends in a last-ditch effort to track down the elusive ‘Mr. Right’ and get hitched before her little blister.

If the premise of a thirty-day time limit sounds ridiculously arbitrary, that’s because it is. Nonsensical and dripping with conceit, the self-imposed challenge is so artificially contrived, it’s doesn’t even tick the Looney Tunes comedy box. Why is it thirty days? Dreadful writing, that’s why, complete with unfortunately, frivolous and clunky plot devices that are merely the tip of the iceberg of wrongness that haunts this film.

Baggage Claim compounds all its silliness with an air of childish innocence. Take the character names, for instance: Jill Scott plays Montana’s sexually liberated bestie, Gail (because every black woman’s best friend is named ‘Gail’), whose surname is none other than ‘Best’; while the calm and collected neighbour (Derek Luke) is known as… wait for it… Mr. Right. It was genuine surprise to this writer that the obligatory male flight attendant was called ‘Sam Gay’.

While we’re on the subject, Sam (Adam Brody) is the sole believable character of the whole affair, which speaks volumes because he’s a walking (nay, mincing) stereotype. He remains eminently watchable, which is an achievement in itself given that everyone else, down to the extras, is a cartoon character. When Patton’s not convulsively twitching her face or gesticulating weirdly, she’s running to catch a flight, swinging her roller-bag in the air; just as air hostesses really do. Don’t they?

All of the goofiness would be fine if Baggage Claim was in any way funny. However, the only laughs stem from Taye Diggs’ would-be congressman character. Trying and failing to be the quintessential politician’s wife, before storming out Patton yells: “I don’t trust black Republicans!” A lump of satire floating in a sea of doltish buffoonery, it’s a welcome deviation from the gag-inducing gags that abound in this misfiring comedy.

At best, Baggage Claim is a moronic, profoundly dumb exercise in how to bore an audience for 96 minutes. At worst, it’s an offensive dose of misogyny, hammering home every archaic, outdated and plain ole bad cliché about single women Hollywood ever trotted out. Rest assured, total racial equality in making pointless, terrible romantic comedies has been achieved.

Simon says: Baggage Shame.

[Written for GCN]

A Pirate’s Life; ‘Captain Phillips’ (2013).

12 Oct

Captain Phillips posterMe nerves! Having just recently recovered equilibrium after the tension-fest that was The Call, I’m called upon to review Captain Phillips and thereby jettison my anxiety levels to another extreme, and not for the right reasons. Why do I do this job?

One could also ask why Captain Phillips (aka Tom Hanks) does his job in this decidedly unpleasant, if absorbing film, which unfortunately forgoes artistic finesse for a gung ho, pro-USA mantra.

The good Captain is a seasoned sailor of the seven seas with a knack for clairvoyance. Following a gratuitous ‘he loves his wife’ opening scene, Captain P sets sail aboard a colossal, Kenya-bound freighter. As the ship approaches the Horn of Africa, a gang of Somali pirates swiftly seizes control before speeding off aboard a sealed submarine-like lifeboat, with Hanks on board. A biopic of the real-life Captain Richard Phillips, this movie draws inspiration from his terrifying 2009 ordeal.

Good docu-dramas aim to underpin what the audience already knows with some revelatory or hitherto unearthed information, as expertly demonstrated by 2013’s Academy Award-rumbling Zero Dark Thirty. Although Captain Phillips concerns itself with atomically smaller stakes (ZD-30 shook us with conspiracies and a likely apocalypse; this has an assortment of skinny men), what really sinks this ship is its unflinching dedication to two-dimensionality.

At dubious loggerheads with the rationale that cargo ships are looted to combat impoverishment, or at least for some mix of socio-political reasons,Captain Phillips paints its pirates as mindless, greedy villains. While the boat’s crew and the Navy SEALS display robotic proficiency at their jobs, and the good Captain himself proves to be the sole benefactor of any characterisation whatsoever, the dead-eyed Somalis behave like hyperactive children on cocaine.

Muse (Barkhad Abdi), the commander of the invaders, is granted a few throwaway lines about the bullying nature of larger nations (who overfish in Somali waters) and his duty to local warlords (who pocket the bulk of the pirates’ plunder), but the rest of his screen-time is spent chewing khat leaves, barking orders and generally acting like a monster. The film submerges any humanising of Muse beneath swathes of inexplicable menace, making Hanks look positively saintly by turn.

Director Paul Greengrass is no blinkered defender of world superpowers – his Bloody Sunday is a thoroughly detailed yet impassioned examination of Britain’s negative legacy in Northern Ireland – but here his portrayal of the heroic white American hero’s immeasurable suffering at the hands of antagonistic African thugs comes off as crass. Sure, the movie sticks to the facts, but the choices Greengrass makes are just embarrassing.

On the surface, Captain Phillips succeeds in giving us two hours of stressfully claustrophobic tension, with the sort of melodramatic ‘old white guy in peril’ role that could guarantee Hanks another coveted Oscar. To deny the movie’s gripping nature would be doing it an injustice, but to label it as much more than star-spangled flag-waving would be an even graver affront to the complex truth that lies behind the growing problem of piracy on the African seas.

Simon says: bring some sea sickness tablets.

[Written for GCN]

Black and Blue; ‘Blue Jasmine’ (2013).

27 Sep

Blue Jasmine posterIt’s that time of year again! Christmas has come early for Woody Allen connoisseurs, as his annual motion picture hits cinemas. Arriving amidst a flurry of eager anticipation and wrapped in Allen’s trademark studio polish, the real treat is that Blue Jasmine not only betters 2012’s middling To Rome with Love, but also presents a career highlight for the veteran director.

After a three-year European holiday, Allen returns to the United States (sun-soaked San Francisco to be exact), where the singularly uptight Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) comes to stay with her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins). Reeling from the imprisonment of her husband (Alec Baldwin) and corresponding collapse of her affluent social life, the movie follows her downfall from riches to rags and how she deals with the resulting emotional trauma.

Allen’s filmic endeavours can usually be neatly divided into either the ‘comedy’ or ‘drama’ brackets; Blue Jasmine is a rare example in that neither shoe really fits. The peppy trailer and neurotic female star are both comedic Woody Allen hallmarks, and undoubtedly funny moments are sprinkled throughout the film’s 98 minutes.

But only a masochist could label this a comedy. Blue Jasmine is tragic in the classical sense of the word in that it examines a powerful figure’s fall from grace. Jasmine is a mess, boasting a litany of mental issues while simultaneously combating apparent alcoholism (she’s hooked on Stolichnaya, no less). Her downward spiral is difficult to watch at times, and as various secrets are revealed, her collapse becomes increasingly upsetting.

Although she’s the protagonist here, Jasmine presents next to no redeeming qualities whatsoever. A condescending, elitist snob who avoids her impoverished sister like the plague, until of course she needs a favour, that we sympathise with her at all is not only a testament to Blanchett’s acting prowess, but also a reinforcement of the scriptwriting and directing talent of Woody Allen.

Blue Jasmine also features a spectacular supporting cast. Sally Hawkins is marvellously convincing as the ditsy Ginger, Michael Stuhlbarg has a handful of wonderful scenes as a pervy dentist (the hilariously-titled ‘Dr. Flicker’, who refuses “to beat about the bush”); and who knew Louis C.K. could act? This veritable cornucopia of stellar performances should linger in the minds of Oscar nominators in the coming months.

Eyebrows are raised at the inclusion of an older man running off with a teenage girl, though Allen movies usually bear some semblance of autobiography. More sociologically-minded folk may also find Allen’s miscomprehension of the working class slightly nauseating – Ginger’s “hovel” of a flat is charming and spacious, while the less wealthy characters sport embarrassingly awful haircuts that only the blind could appreciate.

That said, Blue Jasmine is Allen’s most emotionally complex movie in a long time, featuring perhaps Cate Blanchett’s greatest performance yet. It’s a tough but rewarding Woody classic.

Simon says: Allen’s best work in years.

[Written for GCN]

Berry Phone Home; ‘The Call’ (2013).

20 Sep

The Call posterHalle Berry’s career has had more ups and downs than Harry Styles’ underpants. She may have won an Oscar for Monster’s Ball, but few other actresses have scraped the Hollywood barrel as often, or as spectacularly. Catwoman anyone? New Year’s Eve? If you approach one of her films without great expectations, you’re bound not to be disappointed. Well, not too disappointed.

Fortunately, my expectations for The Call were entirely off-kilter. This film sits on the upper end of the Berry Spectrum.

Opening with panoramic shots of a moonlit Los Angeles, we quickly zoom to ‘The Hive’, or the base of operations for 911 operators. Distracted by her uniformed love interest Paul (Morris Chestnut), experienced staffer Jordan (Berry) fatally botches a call that alerts a serial killer to his prey. While taking leave of absence to train new operators, a terrified teenager (Abigail Breslin) locked in the boot of a car rings in and Berry, in a double-edged effort to redeem herself and save the girl, takes the call.

Much like 2012’s Argo, The Call is a remarkably intense and unrelenting thriller that grabs you in a stranglehold within the first scene and refuses to let go for 90 minutes straight. Even the litany of would-be distractions, from the occasionally laughable dialogue to Berry’s preposterous 1990-era Whitney Houston wig fail to distract from the riveting chaos unfolding on-screen. Berry injects buckets of soul into her very likable character in what is her best performance in ages.

Director Brad Anderson (Session 9, The Machinist) expertly weaves the increasingly panicked conversation between Berry and Breslin while also juggling the drama unfolding on either end; Breslin kicks out tail lights and waves at passers-by, while the fascinating technical machinations involved in her rescue are shot almost documentary-style. Thanks to this movie, I now know the procedure, should I wake up stuck in a trunk on day.

Major props go to Breslin, whose character could have been painful had a lesser actress been cast; spending an hour fighting for her life in such a confined space without over-emoting or grating on the eardrums is an achievement. Michael Eklund plays the singularly horrifying abductor, whose general demeanour and overall motivation for the kidnapping makes him ten times creepier than all of Insidious: Chapter 2’s assorted monsters combined. The total lack of Bond villain-esque monologues is indescribably refreshing too.

The decision to turn Jordan into a foolhardy vigilante in the grand finale serves as a disappointing disconnect, reeking as it does of a director neither trusting his own material nor the ability of his cast to pull it off. Thankfully, however, it’s only a minor hang-up that validates itself with the absolute final scene, which acts as a campy if wonderfully satisfying shattering of genre conventions and, deliciously, audience expectations.

In the pantheon of movies that focus on phone conversations, The Call is leagues ahead of When A Stranger Calls, stands head and shoulders above Cellular and even manages to keep Phone Booth on hold. Nail-bitingly suspenseful from start to finish, this is one Call you won’t want to miss.

Simon says: I’m fresh out of phone puns.

[Written for GCN.ie]

Interesting Literature

A Library of Literary Interestingness

Brian Finnegan

www.brianfinnegan.ie

beanmimo

Me and all of you

Metallomusikum

Music, Metal, Mayhem

Waving at Magpies

There's no marmalade at Paddington Station.

niavsmiz

Productive procrastination from my final exams to compliment my final exams. Can't go wrong, right?

HarsH ReaLiTy

A Good Blog is Hard to Find

CinEnemA

some kind of wonderful

Talking Horror

A Podcast About All Things Horror

The Baggage Handler

I made the impossible easy in both worlds!

Hiking Photography

Beautiful photos of hiking and other outdoor adventures.

ScreenSeer

A look into film - past, present and future.

Frame Rates

It's about movies

Unbound Boxes Limping Gods

The writer gives life to a story, the reader keeps it alive.

The Lady's Sanctuary

Whisps and Whims, Writing, Wishes and Whispers.

Audio SeXXX

Eargasms found here!

feral love

night waste; an experiment in largely unedited nighttime musings & thoughts

Film Through Time.

A look at film through the years, in all shapes and forms.

Independent Cinema

Watching movies alone. Always.

Nameless Horror

Unspeakable Acts

Bib Overalls Film Blog

This is my personal blog about Bib overalls films and TV series. It's my first blog. You will find here informations, trailer videos, low-res images and personal comments/ratings. You will not find here complete videos, download links, shopping links etc.

film review london

concise movie reviews & news

The Silver Fox

I like to tell stories.

Keith Broni

Keith Broni's blog.

Ello world, it's me!'s Blog

whatever passes through my mind...

Dublin to Hollywood

Writing my way to Hollywood - one script at a time

theroboticcaterpillar

A great WordPress.com site

Poshknacker's Blog

coming proudly from left of your peripherals.

The Evolution of Eloquence

Improving the English language one letter at a time

Katie Ingram

storyteller

The Noise Made By People

Reflections on music and life. But mostly music.

Lateral Love

"The time is always right to do what is right" ~ Martin Luther King Jr

Celluloid Wicker Man

Reviews, Essays and Analysis of Film and Art By Adam Scovell

Shouting From The Left

Combining Marxist/Humanist/Socialist ideals with satire to create a rhetoric which aims to deconstruct current political socio-cultural events.

Eye-Dancers

A site devoted to the Young Adult sci-fi/fantasy novel The Eye-Dancers

DGAF

Sounds way better than Cheese and Crackers.

Lonely Eskimo Films

We're just a team of friends that want to show the world how creative we can be :)

CURNBLOG

Movies, thoughts, thoughts about movies.

Little Thread Crafts

Stitching Away One Thread at a Time

Bad horror, Good times

Reviewing the best of the bad!