Friday, 17 March 2017

Some Bonus Features

Not every movie I watch gets the 300-word review treatment. Time – but more often than not – drive dictates when I’m able/when I feel like drawing up a few thoughts about a recently-watched flick. However, today I thought I would share some thoughts on an assortment of movies ranging from old favorites to fascinating first-time viewings:

American Psycho (2000)
This is the very definition of a niche movie. It’ statement about ‘80s yuppie culture is interestingly contrasted by its depiction of over-the-top violence. Christian Bale shines in the lead role and his performance brings out some of the most amusing aspects of this pitch-black comedy. The now infamous murder scene set to Huey Lewis and the News’ “Hip to be Square” is genuinely funny. Not a movie for all palates, but to those with a taste for the bizarre, American Psycho is likely to linger long in the memory.

Black Swan (2010)
Managing to combine elements which are both beautiful and disturbing, Black Swan is a truly impressive psychological drama. Natalie Portman won a deserved Oscar for Best Actress for her role as a ballerina slowly being consumed by her dark side, and her performance is central to this story. Black Swan is the story of a transformation and the film is also; going from straight drama, to psychological thriller, to all-out horror. A spellbinding achievement, a descent into madness is worth the price of admission.

The Prestige (2006)
It’s not easy to admit when you’re wrong. Especially for me when I’m talking about movies. For years, I said that I was not a fan of Christopher Nolan’s film about at-war magicians. But, upon a recent re-watch, I was forced to eat my words. Truly, The Prestige is an exciting, taut, complex thriller, that explores the world of magic and the depths of obsession with skill and intelligence. The movie is surely one of the most well-cast films in recent memory too with an ensemble headed by Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, Scarlett Johansson, Michael Caine, and David Bowie as the eccentric inventor Nikola Tesla. The front of the DVD box for The Prestige boasts a glowing review by Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers saying, “You want to see it again the second it’s over” and, you know, I couldn’t agree more.

Memento (2000)
I have always been a little skeptical of Christopher Nolan. The reasons are uncertain, even to me, but I am beginning to recant any and all negatives thoughts I may have had for the director. If he didn’t sell me with (what I think to be his masterpiece) The Prestige, then he’s certainly won me over with Memento. Memento is a film so incredibly original and unique; it is difficult to liken it to any other movie. Its story is fascinating. Its performances are excellent, and it is surely one of the most cleverly structured movies I have ever watched. Just as much of a puzzle for its audience as it is for Guy Pearce’s central character, Memento is a movie which warrants revisiting sooner rather than later.

Whiplash (2014)
There are some movies which I know that I love the instant they are over, and Whiplash is a prime example. Watching it again after a long time, I was left with the same intense, emotional response I had when I watched the film for the very first time. Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons deliver powerhouse performances in a movie which is so well told and edited. Destined to become a modern day classic, Whiplash is a fitting moniker for a movie of this kind: a breathless, intense thrill ride from beginning to end.

JFK (1991)
You’d think that it would be easy to talk about one of your all-time favorite movies. It isn’t. Suffice it to say that upon revisiting Oliver Stone’s epic masterpiece, I was left in the same breathless state as I was with Whiplash. From the first time that I watched it, JFK has been able to pull me into its twisting and turning narrative, presented in some of most brilliantly-edited together series of montages I have ever beheld. JFK really transcends being a simple conspiracy thriller. It really is an experience and a one-of-a-kind one at that.

Gone Girl (2014)
Opinion seems to be divided on David Fincher’s adaption of Gillian Flynn’s thriller, but I am of the mind that the film is a stylish, gripping character study. While the story may have more than a handful of unplugged plot-holes to its detriment, Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike lead an impressive cast (which includes Neil Patrick Harris and Tyler Perry both acting against type and truly succeeding in doing so) and, as usual, Fincher’s style is a feast for the eyes. Gone Girl is, at its heart, a domestic drama and a talented production team is able to elevate that to new heights. Come for the interesting story and stay for the fantastic performances and direction.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)
Another from director David Fincher, this adaptation of the best-selling thriller once more shows off what a unique artistic vision Fincher is behind the camera. Swathed in chilling, grey tones (matching the setting of an almost tangibly frigid Swedish winter); The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was deservedly nominated for Best Cinematography. A truly disturbing story which manages to be equal parts Agatha Christie mystery and an episode of Law and Order: SVU, the film boasts a remarkable central performance by Rooney Mara as the title character and an equally fine turn by Daniel Craig as a determined investigator. Dark and gritty wouldn’t do this film’s tone justice and once seen is likely to haunt long after. 

Sunday, 12 March 2017

300 Words on "The Devil's Advocate" (1997)

Genre. Genre certainly comes in handy when you’re scrolling through Netflix, but sometimes it is difficult to classify a movie. If it includes a number of ingredients, it could automatically be classified as something it is not. And then, there are the instances when a film simply cannot be classified at all. Or, its ingredients categorize it as something quite unique. The Devil’s Advocate, from 1997, is just such an example. How many other movies can you think of that could be described as psychological, supernatural, legal thrillers?

Perhaps that’s why the film wasn’t well received upon its initial release; Roger Ebert, for one, claimed that the whole thing felt disjointed; “the John Grisham stuff clashed with the Exorcist stuff,” and that’s certainly a pit-fall of a movie which tries to do a lot. And, while I think it is fair to say that The Devil’s Advocate is not the perfect film, its uniqueness alone is enough to applaud.

For what it’s worth, the movie has a lot more in common with that other seminal horror film, Rosemary’s Baby than it does The Exorcist; it’s a slow-burn kind of horror, perpetually putting the viewer on guard with the feeling that something isn’t quite right. When the truth is finally revealed, it’s fairly unexpected, but hardly off-putting and feels justified in its craziness. Along the way, Keanu Reeves, Al Pacino, and Charlize Theron turn in excellent performances which elevate the film to another degree turning this thriller into a fascinating morality play.

Come the end of this two-hour twenty minute film with The Rolling Stones’ “Paint it Black” playing under the credits, you are left with the distinct impression that you have seen something one-of-a-kind. While not the ideal example of trailblazing in the film industry, it remains an interesting and engaging experiment nevertheless. The Devil’s Advocate is surely a movie which dares you to classify it so easily.

Monday, 6 March 2017

300 Words on "Steve Jobs" (2015)

Good writing is noticeable. It usually has a pattern too; you can spot it easily. The writing of Aaron Sorkin certainly has a pattern. His scripted movies are filled with fast-talking, quip-creating characters. Watching one of his movies is like watching a tennis match in which the players are playing with three tennis balls; each one a different idea or strand of the conversation which is verbally batted around and eventually strung together. As one who is an appreciator of great dialogue, Sorkin’s movies are always enjoyed and what is so special about Steve Jobs is that it brings his dialogue to the front.

Broken into three nearly identical segments, Steve Jobs is all about the characters and all about their interactions. It’s a simple premise and it should be reiterated that this film is not a biopic. It is about Steve Jobs, but it would be difficult to call Steve Jobs the story of the man’s life. This is a deconstruction of the man. This is a look into three (fictionalized) moments which showcased who Steve Jobs really was, presenting all of the facets of one of the most divisive characters from the twentieth century.  

To do the premise of this movie justice takes a skilled cast, and the ensemble gathered together by director Danny Boyle is brilliant. Michael Fassbender really does shine in the title role and, while I wasn’t convinced he was Jobs, I was lost in his performance. Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen and Jeff Daniels compliment him in no small measure.

The ultimate compliment I can pay a film is when it becomes something other than a film: an experience. Steve Jobs is such an example. A masterfully written character piece which is brought to life by a truly talented group of actors drew me into the story and made it an ordeal to hit that pause button.

That’s what good writing can do.