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Monday, July 22, 2019

Contagion (2011)


At best this is a tense, powerful look at the worldwide paranoia that results when a lethal virus begins to spread; at worst it is a jumpy, conjolted attempt to bring a fresh look to an exhausted sub-genre. Steven Soderbergh returns to the similar star-powered, collage-like storytelling style that he used with such grace in his award-winning film, Traffic (2000). He is unable to recreate that success because of a plot that is far too busy to allow us any emotional attachment to its characters which ruins the humanism that Soderbergh tries so hard to establish.

The Kid with a Bike (2011)


Films that embrace the use of subtle storytelling have the duty of attaching audiences completely with the emotion of the characters. Directors Jean-Piree and Luc Dardenne give us the characters, but only brief tastes of their heart and soul. One can help but think of Vittorio De Sica's subtle masterpiece Bicycle Thieves (1948) while watching this film. Both passionately utilize realism and tell stories of the desperation of human nature. The Dardenne brothers capture the realism, but what is realism if we are not convinced what we are watching really matters?

Boy Wonder (2011)


Boy Wonder is Michael Morrissey's thrilling debut film that has gotten little attention, I went into it with a bare minimum idea of what it was about and I what I got was one of the most exhilarating experiences of the year. Morrissey is a devilishly deceptive director, this film has the look of a straight forward revenge thriller but as the film progresses layers of psychological destruction are unleashed.

The Help (2011)


For a film about so much struggle, The Help flows too smoothly and much of it feels like it has been done before. Based on the bestselling novel of the same name by Kathryn Stockett and set in Jackson, Mississippi at the height of the civil rights movement during the early 1960s. Director/writer Tate Taylor handles his subject without giving us anything new; just another dramatized, inconsistency characterized Hollywood civil rights vehicle. Like countless other Hollywood pieces dealing with sensitive racial subjects, this film is full of forced emotion.

The Ides of March (2011)

I am a harsh skeptic when it comes to political thrillers, it is far too easy for dramatic stories about the corrupted nature of today's politics to be made, yet we rarely get one that feels honest (how ironic). But this film is different, it digs deep into the corrupted nature of politicians and the unfortunate people who get hurt when "the shit hits the fan." George Clooney directs this tense, chilling portrayal of modern day American politics.

Ryan Gosling plays Stephen Meyers, a young, optimistic campaign manager who has naive hope and confidence in his candidate, Mike Morris, and of politics in general. Gosling delivers his second great performance of the year, he plays his role with a chilling calmness as his character's moral values are challenged and twisted. This performance is equal, perhaps even better, than his other great performance in the film noirish thriller, Drive. George Clooney plays Mike Morris, a likable candidate who at face-value seems to be the perfect person to become to support and become next president, but as the story unravels we get a hash lesson of why nobody is ever what they seem. A wonderful supply of strong supporting performances featuring Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Marisa Tomei, and Evan Rachel Wood. George Clooney deserves his award season nominations for his direction, this film is meticulously plotted and the brutally honest portrayal of today's politics that we need, but only get once or twice a year.

Midnight in Paris (2011)

A delightful dose of wonderfully imaginative nostalgia. Woody Allen makes it look effortless. Owen Wilson plays Gil Pender, a Hollywood script writer who is working on his first novel which is about a man who works at a nostalgia shop. Wilson seems like he would have been an odd choice, he is known for his outgoing, charming roles in silly rom-coms, but here brings his irresistible charm to a more serious and completely un-formulaic film. His performance isn't going to steal your heart and won't win any awards, but it is still a good, satisfying lead performance by an actor who should show off his real talents more often. Gil and his fiancé, played by Rachel McAdams, travel to Paris for business reasons and to prepare for their wedding. One night while wandering the streets of Paris, at the stroke of midnight Gil is swept away by an early 20th century can and thrown right in the midst of his dream decade, the 20s, in a Paris inhabited by the great literary and artistic minds. He befriends Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald and is smitten by Parisian beauty Adriana who just happens to be having an affair with Pablo Picasso. Marion Cotillard plays Adriana, a classical beauty who puts all other women to shame. Her performance is the depth of this film, she is a lover who is trampled on by love, her fragile personality is adorable.

At midnight each night, Gil spends as much time as possible indulging himself in all the gloriousness of the 20s only to return to the present the next day. As his trips to the 20s become more frequent he begins to let it effect his normal life which causes him and his fiancé to begin to drift apart. But as his meets an endless supply of early 20th century culture figures that also includes Salvador Dali - played hilariously by Adrien Brody - he also begins to learn from their views and outlooks on life. The way the film comes together is a bit abrupt, but nothing that should bother anyone. Through Adriana, Gil sees a lot of himself, dissatisfaction with the time periods they were born in and trying to live in other time periods to escape those dissatisfactions, and he comes to understand that no time period is the best, all are great for reasons of their own.

Not once does this film stop being an absolute joy to watch and you can see Allen having such fun with his idea. This film may not be that emotionally deep, but it wants nothing more than to be clever, original, and entertaining and Allen is all of that. Not to say that there isn't depth here. A nostalgic exploring story crafted gracefully with easily the best script of the year that mixes historical personalties, time periods, and creates colorful characters all at once. Woody Allen is at yet another peak in his work.

Hesher (2011)


Hesher is an empty shell of a film which has an outlook on life reminiscent of an angsty teen trying to be as loud and crude as possible. The strength of the performances are diluted down by brash outbursts of hate and a complete abundance of sentimentality. Here is film about sadness and dealing with loss that rarely gives us any heart or sympathy for its suffering characters, and when it does its anarchic, hate-fueled aggression once again ruins the moment. Simply put, this is one of the most unsatisfying films I have seen all year long.

Dogville (2003)

Dogville (2003) - A women takes refuge in a poverty-striken small town in the Rocky Mountains to escape gangsters who are hunting her. To stay in the town she must gain the towns people's trust, which she does easily, but the real struggle is to keep the conflicting morals and ideals of this desperate town at bay. Using a stage-like set where we are able to see all the goings on of the town at all times, Lars von Trier allows us to make our own decisions about the town of Dogville and its inhabitants reactions and decisions when facing adversity. By the end of the film when it is time for the final decision to be made all of your views or morality, tolerance, and forgiveness will be put to the test. Another brilliant film by von Trier.

Brokeback Mountain (2005)

A heartbreaking story of truly forbidden love. Enis del Mar and Jack Twist fall in love, but a ignorant world makes them fear and hide their love. Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal give two of the greatest performances in the last twenty years. Brokeback Mountain is about two gay cowboys, that statement alone will turn many heads and cause many offensive comments. But Brokeback Mountain is much more than a film about gay cowboys. It is a film about a struggle, the struggle two gay men are faced with. The love between Jack and Enis is pure. Their love is so true and so powerful, but because they are gay they must hide in the shadows. Ang Lee's direction is emotionally haunting. Viewers that are able to see this movie for what it truly is will understand how wonderful this film is. Brokeback Mountain is an film filled with A-list actors like, Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal, Anne Hathaway, and Michelle Williams. Each one of the young stars in this film have performances that will forever be remembered.

Brokeback Mountain is a fearless look into the 20 year love affair/struggle of two gay men spanning from the early 60s to the early 80s. The film is set mostly in Wyoming, an area that has always been a very anti-gay area. The film references the shockingly violent reactions to homosexuality in the area, and how it affects Jack and Enis' relationship. People spend their whole lives, and many ultimately fail at finding true love. Jack and Enis find true love but because it is with each other, it is forbidden, and their lives turn into a constant battle with their emotions.

Ang Lee gained worldwide acclaim for his sensational directing in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. Brokeback Mountain is a complete 180 degree turn from those days, but is also a whole new achievement. One of the most beautifully shot films in the last 20 years. But a film cannot run completely of emotionally powerful direction, for a film to be great it needs strong acting. Highly emotional viewers please beware Brokeback Mounting is a emotional freight train. Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhall as the leads become household names. Both Ledger and Gyllenhaal gain recognition from very memorable, and entertaining performances. Ledger rose to fame as a result of his rebellious performance in 10 Things I Hate About You. Gyllenhaal gained international fame from his lead performance in the dark Sci-Fi thriller Donnie Darko. Ledger and Gyllenhaal have grown a lot since then, and in Brokeback Mountain their performances are two of the greatest ever.

                  Potential Spoilers
Enis del Mar (Heath Ledger) is a ranch hand, and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a rodeo cowboy. They are hired by Joe Aguirre (Randy Quaid) to herd his cattle on Brokeback Mountain. Both Enis and Jack develop a very emotional relationship during their time on Brokeback Mountain. Their trip is cut short. Ennis marries his long-time fiancee Alma Beers (Michelle Williams) and fathers two children. Jack marries and starts a family with rodeo rider Laureen Newsome (Anne Hathaway). When the two meet again two years later they realize that they still have very strong feelings for each other. The decide to not keep a secret relationship. As the years go on their love becomes more and more of a struggle.

While its plot was controversial that did not keep people from flocking to see Brokeback Mountain when it came out. The film was a box office success making over 150 million worldwide. With Brokeback Mountain drawing in that many viewers, that definitely showed some significant maturing on our part. But controversy kept the film banned in many theaters across the U.S. and in various parts of the world. It was nominated for eight Academy Awards including Best Picture. Unfortunately it was upset by the also controversial film Crash, that referenced modern day racism. Brokeback Mountain did win three Oscars, including Best Director for Ang Lee.

A wonderful adaptation of Annie Proulx's short story by the same name. Brokeback Mountain was nominated for over 70 awards winning over 50. It gained worldwide acclaim, and there is no denying the shear emotional power in this film. Emotion is needed in any great film, and many have suffered because of its lack. Each and every person involved in this film went out of their comfort zone and had to go to emotional extremes to play their parts. Michelle Williams and Anne Hathaway were both known for their smaller and more comedic roles before this film. With Brokeback Mountain, they both were able to show off they acting talents, showing the world they have endless talents and range. I could ramble and gawke over the acting power and direction, but the experience is what will truly let the viewer understand the significance. Ang Lee's direction captures the emotion, but it is Ledger and Gyllenhaal that made Brokeback Mountain one of the most unforgetable emotional experiences.

Black Swan (2010)

The perfect psychological-thriller to end the decade. Nina Sayers is a dedicated dancer who works with a prestigous ballet company in New York City. She is played with shocking passion by Natalie Portman in a role of a lifetime, and she doesn't disappoint. Nina's dream is to be the Swan Queen in the production of Swan Lake, but when her dream comes true her mental state slowly crumbles. What makes Black Swan so irresistably powerful and shocking is the Darren Aronofsky's overpowering direction. Aronofsky is able to use excessiveness for the entire film to allow us viewers to feel just as overpowered as Nina's character.

As the Swan Queen, Nina must be able to embody both the White and Black Swan. French actor Vincent Cassell plays Thomas Leroy, the agressive and controversial director. A role that has been overlooked by the two female leads, but in reality turns out to be one of the deeper and more important performances.  Consistently throughout the film Leroy tells Nina that in order for her to cross the barrier of just being the pure and innocent White Swan to being able to be the dark and passionate Black Swan, that she must "lose herself." In Black Swan Aronofsky  takes one of the most common themes in film -- the loss of innocence -- and uses dark direction with horror qualties and is able to take the film to unheard of heights. Never have I been so terrified when watching a mental breakdown, when Aronofsky begins this insane journey to "perfection" he allows viewers not one moment of let up or ease.

The major struggle of the film is as said before, Nina's attempts to lose her innocence and to finally have the emotional passion required for her to be the Black Swan. Lily played by Mila Kunis is a role that shows her true acting talents. Lily is a free spirited beauty who is the complete opposite of Nina which makes her the true Black Swan of the film. Nina's insanity convinces her that Lily is out to get her part at all costs. Perfection is what Nina seeks and the women who she sees as perfect is former Swan Queen Beth MacItyre who is played by Winona Ryder. Ryder's performance begins the insanity of the film with her reactions to her apparent forced retirement.  A smaller role that has major effects on the film is Barbara Hershley's performance as Nina's mother obsessive mother Erica who's pregnancy with Nina brings a sudden hault to her own dancing career. Her controlling nature seems to be what truly makes Nina so emotionally unbalanced and shielded.

Melodramatic from start to finish. Clint Mansell's music paves the way for all of the shocking times in the film. Insanity is another theme that is used so often in films that it would be harder to find films without it than with it, but only a director with unlimited amounts of courage could make this story as magnificent as it turns out being. Portman has earned endless praise as the mentally weak and emotionally unstable Nina, and you will not get one work of rebuttal from me. Real dialogue is the only thing her performance lacks. It is her beautiful dancing -- which Ms. Portman worked very hard on no matter what anyone else has to say -- and emotional destruction which will dominates this terrifying, suspenseful thriller.

A journey to perfection, that ends with the usual Aronofsky flair. Black Swan doesn't have a storyline with any real level of uniqueness, what it does have is a cast filled with stars all at the highest levels of their careers. Portman in a potentially career defining role, Kunis in a star making role, and Cassell bringing his endless acting talents overseas. The crew for this film is a match made in heaven, the technical aspects of this film are at the highest levels. There is no real classification for Black Swan; you could call it a drama, but that would be far to broad. It could be called a psychological study, but it is much deeper than that. You could even consider it a horror, but that just doesn't seem right. So I guess I will settle with saying that Black Swan is a overpowering experience that is powered by shocking but undoubtedly great direction by Darren Aronofsky, and the greatest performance of Natalie Portman's young career.