Tag Archives: Morgan Freeman

Months in Review: September & October films (part I)

It is absolutely incredible to me that we are already in November. It feels as if Summer lasted about a week, Spring no more than 2 days and that Winter was about a month ago.

Per usual, my blog has been more inactive than I would like it to be but after 2-3 years of keeping the same pace, it’s about time I come to accept the infrequency of my blogging.

I have managed to stay within an average of watching at least 10 new films per month, with the goal of hitting at least 120 new films seen in the calendar year (I don’t think I’ve seen more than 10 repeats)

In September I watched 13 films averaging an unusually high 3.5 out of 5 score product of 6 films that hit 4 or 4.5 out of 5. Also an unusually high number.

In October, however, things went back to normalcy. I watched 10 films averaging 3.15, with only two of these getting a 4 out of 5.

To keep the posts manageable, I will divide them into two parts. One dedicated to September, and the other to October. Below my short impressions of each:

GONE BABY GONE (2007) [ 3.5/5 ]

Gone Baby Gone felt like an extended episode of Law & Order featuring a great cast that includes the likes of Morgan Freeman and Casey Affleck.

Set in a gritty, dark and unwelcoming part of Boston, the film tells the story of a private investigator and his partner searching for a missing girl. The characters are, for the most part, excellently conceived, filled with complexity and contradictions.

The moral question at the heart of the movie, which is presented to us in the last act, is one that is difficult to answer, probably splitting audiences in half back when the film was released in 2007.

What doesn’t work as well are the ways in which the film reaches those moral dilemmas, often opting to grab audiences by the hand, and never fully trusting viewers to make their own connections.

Casey Affleck’s performance is especially engaging in a role that has some of the ticks but not quite the range of his well-deserved Oscar-winning turn in Manchester by the Sea.

KONG: SKULL ISLAND (2017) [ 3.5/5 ]

The latest reboot of King Kong is an attempt to bring the big ape to a new generation of filmgoers, giving audiences an origin story that, in all honesty, fails to live up to the long cultural significance of Kong in the big screen.

Aside from a particularly weak premise that sets the events of the film in motion, Kong is packed with well crafted and entertaining set pieces that keep the film from succumbing to its general lack of originality. John C. Reilly’s late cameo is one of the film’s pleasures and the only character I found myself rooting for.

THE PRESTIGE (2006) [ 4/5 ]

The Prestige was very much a precursor to Christopher Nolan’s amazing work in Inception. Like that film, The Prestige is built upon a story that is rich in complexity where every shot and every bit of dialogue serves the film’s ultimate reveal. As with the rest of Nolan’s impressive body of work, The Prestige hides its secrets by limiting our point of view. It works only by placing us in the thick of the story, while leaving a crucial perspective out until the end. As engaging and wildly unpredictably as the plot is, the invisible hand that moves all the gears and fits all the pieces into place seems a bit more conspicuous than usual.

Being so familiar with the director’s work was a bit of a detriment to the experience, expecting the perfectionism and directorial dexterity of Christopher Nolan to sweep us up at the end, cleverly tying in the film’s many loose pieces.

Having said this, The Prestige is one hell of a cinematic experience that is nearly as imaginative and deceptive as the director’s best work.

LEGEND (2015) [ 4/5 ]

A magnificent dual performance by the always surprising Tom Hardy headlines this wild gangster film set in midcentury London. The thespian plays Reggie and Ronnie Cray; one the suave and elegant empresario with a talent for boxing who desires love and success, and the other his psychologically disturbed bloodthirsty twin with a lust for sex, men and, of course, violence.

Most of what the film tries to say isn’t new or particularly inventive, but I did appreciate its take on the weight of family ties and how one rotten apple can sometimes bring a blossoming empire crashing down.

I also appreciated the film’s dark and twisted humor, its rich assortment of characters and the evil pleasure with which it tells what is a rather tragic tale.

One of the most underrated films of 2015.

A MONSTER CALLS (2016) [ 4.5/5 ]

Candidate to the Blog of Big Ideas’ 250 Essential Films

A beautiful film that moved me to tears. A story about loss and grief that I found extremely poetic and engaging. Though it may turn off some people due to its fantastical elements, A Monster Calls is, by no means, a kids’ film; instead, it is a carefully crafted drama of great emotional resonance that uses fantasy to great effect. I shall be posting a full review in the coming days.

NEON DEMON (2016) [ 3/5 ]

A slow burning and stylish film from Scandinavian director Nicholas Winding Refn set against flashing cameras and the orange glow of the city of Angels.

Like his film Drive, Refn spends most of the film’s running time enamored by the facile beauty of its movie star: Elle Faning, who plays a character both exasperating and relatable, humble at first sight but fundamentally narcissistic. She is treated both as the muse in distress hunted by jealous competition, and also as a sort of virus that has arrived to disrupt the natural order. Such dichotomy is at the heart of the film and it is ultimately what I found most interesting about it.

Sadly, the film lacks momentum, getting lost in its parsimony, with a script filled with holes that do nothing but serve Winding Refn’s brand of filmmaking which can often overwhelm the storytelling.

STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON (2015) [ 3/5 ]

A biopic on the rise and fall of rap supergroup NWA that is entertaining without being particularly nuanced or thought-provoking.

Part of the problem lies on a script that is too heavily focused on the highlights of the lives that made NWA a reality. As a result, the film feels more like a made for tv 2-hour special, rather than an engaging study on the group members and what made them such a potent artistic force.

Straight Outta Compton also feels like a film that was tinkered and edited in post-production to take away the focus from weaker actors: O’Shea Jackson Jr. and Corey Hawkins, playing Ice Cube and Dr. Dre respectively; and give the spotlight to the always great Paul Giamatti, playing the sleazy and conniving manager, and actor Jason Mitchell, playing the late rapper Eazy-E with surprising emotional conviction.

DO THE RIGHT THING (1989) [ 3.5/5 ]

Spike Lee has always been one of those directors whose persona has loomed large in my decision to approach his work trepidatiously. His oeuvre is one that I have only recently began to dip my toes in, first with Chi-Raq, and now with what many critics call his masterpiece: Do The Right Thing.

In defense of the modest 3.5/5 score I give the film, I found that Lee’s work in this predominantly African American treatise may be one of those that, in order to be appreciated, both time and successive viewings may be required.

While his most recent work in Chi-Raq is one that attempts to tackle many large subjects through a tight and clear story; Do The Right Thing is the kind of large, expansive, complex and theatrical exposition about racial relations in the United States that I found to be more relevant as a historical document rather than as an artistic piece. My problem with it is that I simply could not make the transition from the almost whimsical African American micro-universe that Spike Lee had created in almost 90 minutes of film to the very violent and tragic last act. It was an abrupt and hard transition that I simply could not get on board with, despite appreciating the boldness behind the choice.

In addition, I found it unfortunate that Spike Lee made the decision to also take on the lead role, often looking flat opposite an excellent cast of actors.

MOTHER! (2017) [ 4/5 ]

A film so intense that I left the theater feeling exhausted. In the days that followed my trip to the theater, my esteem and appreciation for Darren Aronofski’s latest piece grew, and could easily become a favorite in the years to come.

If you’re so inclined, you can find my full review of the film here

TOWER [ 4/5 ] (2016)

I was introduced to this very good documentary courtesy of the best podcast on film out there: filmspotting.net

The film is one that deals with a very current subject, mass shootings, but it does so by focusing on the victims, both dead and alive, of a single tragic episode without precedent that occurred at the University of Texas at Austin in 1966.

The documentary, directed by Keith Maitland, is as nuanced an exposition of the horror of such an experience as you’re likely to find. It’s both affecting and engaging, creatively crafted using a style of animation that is both painterly and evocative, capturing the emotional drama, while softening the horrific violence.

A must-watch for cinephiles aspiring to make documentaries on tough and difficult subjects with tact and attention to detail.

THE BIG SICK (2017) [ 4/5 ]

Based on the real circumstances that surrounded the relationship of writers Kumail Nunjiani and Emily V. Gordon, The Big Sick is a breath of fresh air in the romantic comedy genre.

Apart from being genuinely funny from beginning to end, the film was surprisingly touching, giving each one of its characters tangible and credible personalities, with only the occasionally cheesy one-liner.

It helps that the relationship at its center worked, and both Kumail and Zoe Kazan deliver crafty performances that are witty and surprisingly nuanced.

The Big Sick is clearly a labor of love inspired by love. One of the best films of 2017.

THE DEAD ZONE (1983) [ 2.5/5 ]

One of the biggest disappointments of late. The Dead Zone is one of those cult films that has survived the passage of time based solely on the curiosity of cinephiles willing to invest a couple of hours to explore the odd pairing of director David Cronenberg and a rare lead performance by Christopher Walken.

The actor plays Johnny Smith who, after a 5-year coma, wakes up to find his fiancé has moved on, his job is gone and, more importantly, that he has psychic powers he must suddenly contend with.

Even when there is something of merit to be found in the film’s interesting explorations of the psychological ramifications of wielding such power, Cronenberg’s execution is terribly uneven.

The dramatic scenes feel staged, the performances unnecessarily heightened, the camerawork is sloppy and the major set pieces anticlimactic.

SNATCHED (2017) [ 2.5/5 ]

After the success and unexpected quality of Amy Schumer’s first starring role in a feature film in 2012’s Trainwreck, I half-expected the stand-up comedian to follow it with something catastrophically bad (in what the industry commonly calls the sophomore slump).

What is surprising about this mind-numbing slapstick comedy is that there is enough comedic chemistry between Goldie Hawn and Schumer as mother and daughter to make the film bearable.

Having said that, I still wish Schumer and Hawn could have done something a lot more worthwhile.

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Months in review: March, April & May

Mad Max Fury

Sometimes it takes moving from one place to another, being extremely busy with work, renovating a new condo, dealing with some family matters and trying to sell the place you’ve been living in for the past year to realize that whatever you thought “busy” meant; it is probably nothing compared to how it has been lately.

Even though my blogging has continued to suffer, I still try to make time for movies. In the last three months I have managed to watch 25 films (11, 10 and 4 respectively). The average score in March was a decent 2.95/5, while April passed with a slightly better 3.1 and May was pretty great with an average of 3.875/5. Of the 25 films, four cracked the 4/5. First, it was the very bleak yet very powerful Oslo, August 31st, followed up by the very well-made documentary Life Itself that touches on the life of the late and great Roger Ebert., the moving doc Dear Zachary and the sensational Mad Max: Fury Road.

Below a summary, in order of viewing, with short reviews of each film I saw in the last 3 months. You might also notice quite a number of sci-fi films, especially those interested in robots and artificial intelligence:

Continue reading Months in review: March, April & May

Months in review: October & November films

In the last two months I’ve seen 26 films, but only a handful of which I would consider watching again. It was a particularly poor couple of months in terms of quality and quantity that I will hopefully begin to fix with the swarm of great films that have come out to theaters or that will be coming before the year is out. I can’t remember the last time I was as excited as I am today with the group of films that are hitting theaters within the next few weeks.

For now, here is a recap of the 26 films I managed to watch between October & November (in the order in which they were seen), while a great deal of my time was devoted to countless hours of catching up with Breaking Bad (finally got to the last season).

RUSH

Continue reading Months in review: October & November films

The Best moments in film history: John Doe in “Se7en”

May contain some SPOILERS !!

For most of its running time, Se7en is a non-remarkable crime drama starring a young Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman and Gwyneth Paltrow.

It is only when a great actor by the name of Kevin Spacey comes into the picture, quite dramatically I might add, that Se7en is taken to a level of thrill and excitement that did not seem possible for most of the film.

Spacey plays a psychopath named John Doe who believes he is to set an example about the evils of society by making his severely flawed victims suffer their worst nightmare before they finally die at his hands. He chooses his victims carefully, based on the seven deadly sins, each one being guilty for committing one of them.

What is remarkable about Spacey’s John Doe is not what he has done, but the convincing way in which he portrays a man that is void of any moral compass, of feeling any sort of remorse, who is not able to feel bad for any of his victims because he feels they are not worthy of clemency. At first, John Doe surrenders while covered in blood in the police station. The detectives don’t understand why he would, knowing by then that his plan was not yet complete. John had killed only 5 of his victims, 2 were still missing. Somerset, who is the more inquisitive of the two detectives in charge, challenges this notion, always suspicious that there is certainly more to come. As the audience, we relate to Somerset as we automatically think that a serial killer as grotesque and merciless as John Doe would never give up when he is so close to completing his so-called “masterpiece”.

By the end of the movie we know that his plan was indeed complete and that he left it to the inexperienced and anger-prone detective Mills (Brad Pitt) to have the power in his hands to make it possible. The cleverness of his plan is shocking and we, as the audience, are probably as surprised as the characters in the movie.

At the end, we are secretly in awe of Spacey’s Doe for the precision of his plan. His serial killer is the incarnation of psychopathic behavior. He welcomes death, in fact, he looks forward to it, knowing that once he passes he will probably be immortalized by the media. What is unsettling about Spacey’ performance is that we believe in what he believes. He is so convincing in what he says that we cannot argue against it. We are lost in Spacey’s eyes, devoid of emotion or fear. His voice is malignant yet thrilling, revealing in hints and pieces that we are speaking to someone who cannot be persuaded or coerced.

Spacey’s performance is all the more thrilling and relevant because the film desperately needed it. What the picture lacked for most of its running time, Spacey’s Doe brought it to the fore and exceeded our expectations, delivering a surprising knockout punch to the story.

Spacey’s brief performance in Se7en elevated the film and he was the deserving recipient of several awards for his extremely electrifying portrayal (surprisingly overlooked by the Oscars). His John Doe, in my opinion, rivals even that of Anthony Hopkins’ Dr. Lecter anyday.

Niels

IMDB Top 250: Unforgiven (1992)

I have found great pleasure in my IMDB challenge, but none greater than the movie I am about to review: Unforgiven. This film will mark a fitting beginning to what I call my Clint Eastwood cycle, which would concentrate in all of the movies that he has been a part of that are also in the TOP 250 films at IMDB.

I have already watched “Gran Torino” more than a month ago and I have struggled to find the right ideas to talk about the film, but given the fact that I will be concentrating on Eastwood in the next few weeks, it is definitely time to also give a review of that film in an upcoming post I am already preparing.

Now back to Unforgiven….

I very much doubt Eastwood will ever do a better film and in the coming lines I will try to explain why.

Unforgiven feels like a great Rock n’ Roll song. For most of its running time, it remains an object of mystery, muted in its reach at first, gaining power and punch as it slowly unravels in order to finally open itself to the audience in a crescendo of violence that seemed both unreachable at first but always unavoidable.

Clint Eastwood is not only the director of this exquisite film, but he also stars as the movie’s central and most interesting character. He plays William Munny, a retired assassin of the Old West who, after having married, tried and succeeded for some time to change his ways and raise two children with very modest means. The film opens with a simple shot that pays homage to a time before ours (and to previous Westerns) where a man, probably Eastwood, stands next to a beautiful tree digging the final resting place of his young wife who had, as the film explains in two simple paragraphs, just perished due to small pox.

Along with his story, the film presents us with the town of Big Whiskey, an outpost that is typical of the Wild West. The whorehouse has been visited by two foreign cowboys, one of which, in a fit of rage, has cut up the beautiful face of one of the “whores”. He is stopped only by the feel of a gun next to his temple carried by the owner of the establishment who ties them up and waits for the town’s sheriff to impart some justice. It is at this moment that we meet “Little Bill”, masterfully played by Gene Hackman. He quickly appears to be a figure that demands respect. Bill stands with confidence, knowing exactly what he will do even before he takes a good look at the two men. He deals a magnanimous hand, setting the criminals free once they commit to compensate the owner with a few horses.The only voice that rises and protests to the glaring injustice is “Strawberry Alice”, the “matriarch whore”, fearlessly played by Frances Fisher. Her protests are dismissed by men but not quenched, as we soon learn her women have impressively gathered a thousand dollars to reward anyone who avenges them and kills the two cowboys.

Eastwood’s Old Wild West in Unforgiven is different in that it presents us with characters that have lived and gotten used to the terrible cruelty of the West, who now face extinction as a more lawful and organized modernity seems to creep around them without notice. Gene Hackman is the man that brings order with an iron fist, but also with a certain degree of equanimity gained by his many years of experience and his calm yet fearsome demeanor. When he learns the whores have posted a reward asking for the killing of two cowboys, he quickly focuses on keeping Big Whiskey free of assasins who would surely come to collect the bounty. No longer this is the Old West of duels and self-imposed justice. This has become the West of the sheriff and the American government that is clearly represented by the flags hanging on both sides of the County Office.

In this context, Eastwood meets a young cowboy self-nicknamed “The Schofield Kid”, played by a debutant Jaimz Woolvett. Here is a new breed of cowboy, eager to claim a bounty not fully knowing the risks that are involved with a killing. He comes to Munny to propose him half of the bounty if he joins him in this quest, having discovered that the old man who can’t even manage to organize a herd of hogs was once a feared gunslinger. Munny has seemingly lost his strength and poise, and with marriage, he also seems to have lost his desire for “meanness” and “wickedness”. First he dismisses the bashful Kid, but later comes to his senses and decides to join him not before enlisting his old partner, played by the everlasting Morgan Freeman.

There is obviously a need for money as poverty has taken over and defined Munny’s life for the last few years. He constantly repeats he has long since retired from his old habits, quitting Whiskey and staying away from his gunslinger past as long as money allowed him to. He repeats he is now “a changed man” over the course of the movie, almost as if he needs to remind himself that he no longer has it in him to kill for money.We start suspecting though (with some skepticism) that Munny does have it in him still and that, beyond the bounty, he secretly desires to prove himself, even when all we see is a shadow of his former glory, aged by the harshness of the Old West.

With Unforgiven, Eastwood seems to have become a part of the scenery. He seems to fit in the desert. Munny feeds from the scenery as if he were a true part of it. It is a quality that Eastwood has gained, as an actor, not only with his age, but with the experience given by the many Western classics he was a part of. With Unforgiven he has clearly decided to close a chapter in his career, presenting us with an Old Wild West that is changing its ways, with seemingly washed-up old timers that are no longer good for a fight.

Munny seems to drag the group’s feet, but in his silence and contemplation, there seems to be a dark man capable of anything, just waiting to come out. Eatwood suffers during the trip and almost meets his death because of a great beating he suffered at the mercy of Little Bill. He takes every punch and kick like he deserves it, as if he wants to die. He crawls away from the whorehouse in pain, but also with the persistence and psychotic resolution of a predestined assassin of the West. Once he gets back up and meets the victimized whore outside a barn, he starts gaining his confidence back and, with that, some of his old vicious self. The old assassin is slowly revealed and with that, Eastwood’s commanding presence on the screen grows larger.

What ensues in the last few scenes, as Munny’s wickedness and thirst for revenge in the form of violence fully awakens, is one of the most electrifying action sequences ever put in film. It lacks the glamor and the perfectly tuned craft of today’s action movies, but it plays effectively as the awkwardness and imperfection gives it a sense of realism that would otherwise lack.

Eastwood directs Unforgiven with patience, in a manner that recalls the work of the previous masters of the best American Westerns, while defining a fitting end for an era of movie-making that saw Clint Eastwood rise as one of its most prominent stars. Unforgiven also reminds me of another masterpiece, Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, in which a delusional and psychotic cab driver is treated as a hero, after he explodes in an act of violence that had seemed at odds with his personality for much of the film.

For its beautiful scenery, the rawness of his camerawork, the perfect casting, his patient yet electrifying storyline, and for his indelible presence in the movie, Eastwood managed to produce a work that is flawless in its genre, and that is superior in its detail and intricacies to anything he has ever been a part of before or after.

Rating: 5 out of 5 (flawless)