Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Film Tally 2014

God, my film watching has been shit this past year. Sure, I managed to see more films in theaters (thanks to finally getting my driver's license back in February) but overall I saw less films than the year before. Anyway, here's what I saw:
  1. Pennies from Heaven
  2. Amour
  3. Inside Llewyn Davis
  4. Her
  5. I'll Cry Tomorrow
  6. A Matter of Life and Death
  7. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead
  8. The Omen
  9. Sexy Beast
  10. The Grand Budapest Hotel
  11. I Killed My Mother
  12. Stranger Than Fiction
  13. The Matador
  14. The Limey
  15. Big Night
  16. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  17. The Broken Circle Breakdown
  18. Oculus
  19. The Lunchbox
  20. Le Week-End
  21. Joe
  22. Fading Gigolo
  23. Locke
  24. Ida
  25. Snowpiercer
  26. Chef
  27. Belle
  28. Guardians of the Galaxy
  29. A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum
  30. What If
  31. Calvary
  32. Hard Candy
  33. The Hunt
  34. Nine Lives
  35. The Trip
  36. A Most Wanted Man
  37. Headhunters
  38. The Drop
  39. A Walk Among the Tombstones
  40. Boyhood
  41. The Skeleton Twins
  42. Love Is Strange
  43. The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them
  44. The Trip to Italy
  45. Gone Girl
  46. Bad Education
  47. The Imitation Game
  48. Pride
  49. Nightcrawler
  50. Key Largo
  51. A Woman's Face
  52. St. Vincent
  53. Laggies
  54. Birdman
  55. Whiplash
  56. Rosewater
  57. Enemy
  58. Obvious Child
  59. Frank
  60. Welcome to Sarajevo
  61. The Double
  62. Beyond the Lights
  63. Heartbeats
  64. Tyrannosaur
  65. Stranger by the Lake
  66. Beautiful Boy
  67. Gloria
  68. A Field in England
  69. Joyeux Noel
  70. The Theory of Everything
  71. Force Majeure
  72. Foxcatcher
  73. Top Five
  74. Starred Up
  75. We Are the Best!
  76. La Vie en Rose
  77. Laurence Anyways
  78. Wild
Man, I really need to pick up the pace for next year. Throw in the fact I plan to find a job and read more...shit, 2015 just got busy.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014


It's a rarity nowadays to find a good film with a female lead. It's even more hard to find one that doesn't revolve around a romantic plot. Fortunately every year, there are such films released.

Jean-Marc Vallee's Wild is one such film. Admittedly, the whole "woman discovering who she is" storyline isn't exactly original but Vallee does his best with the all-too-familiar storyline. (Is it too much to ask for a female-led film that doesn't involve self-discovery?)

Even though the film was directed and written by men, Wild is surprisingly sympathetic. Flashbacks show Cheryl as very sexually active (she gets pregnant at one point though we don't see the outcome of it) and a drug user. Her actions aren't condemned by wither Vallee or Nick Hornby though they are condoned a bit. (Not by a lot but they are.)

At the center of Wild is Reese Witherspoon, an actress who doesn't always get the credit she deserves. (Election and Walk the Line are two obvious but prime examples.) Here, she's in a role that's stripped of glamour, one of rawness and vulnerability. It's something not commonly seen amongst most female performances but Witherspoon does a great job with the role.

Wild is very well done thanks to the work from Vallee, Hornby and Witherspoon. Though the film could have used a feminine touch, it still maintains a solid disposition. Quite frankly, we could do with more films like this. You know, with a good female lead.

My Rating: ****1/2

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Laurence Anyways

Xavier Dolan's first two films I Killed My Mother and Heartbeats focused on the relationships we lead and how stormy they become. With his third film Laurence Anyways, Dolan continues the familiar theme but on a larger scale.

The film focuses on Laurence (Melvil Poupaud) and Fred (Suzanne Clement), a young couple. Their relationship starts to come apart when Laurence reveals his inner desire: to become a woman. From that point on, they slowly start to unravel as both a couple and as people.

Dolan certainly has a knack when it comes to writing the various characters of his films. For Laurence Anyways, he has a larger scale to explore them and what makes them tick. After all, no one has the ideal life.

Mich like how Heartbeats was influenced by the films of Wong Kar-Wai, Laurence Anyways was influenced by the likes of Stanley Kubrick's later career. Indeed, certain moments do appear to be inspired by Eyes Wide Shut whether it's imagery or character interactions.

Laurence Anyways is a beautifully shot film though it's not without its few problems. Still, Dolan continues to provide an intimate portrait of everyday lives, both unflinching and insightful. It's something most directors aren't willing to depict.

My Rating: ****1/2

Monday, December 22, 2014

La Vie en Rose

Olivier Dahan's La Vie en Rose is a film that focuses on a life that was tumultuous, chaotic and (above all else) wildly successful. This life is that of French singer Edith Piaf.

In a way, Piaf was the French equivalent of Judy Garland. Both of their careers started at a young age, both led lives of spectacular highs and lows, and both died as a result of their excessive lifestyles. (Both also died at the age of 47.) Was this intentional on Dahan's part?

Also, how could Dahan depict a life as stormy as Piaf's? Simple: cast an actress who's capable of the role. And Marion Cotillard is such an actress. Many actors can play a real-life person; only a select few are actually that person. Cotillard easily fits into the latter category.

La Vie en Rose isn't shot in the usual linear format for biopics. Rather than starting with the beginning of Piaf's career and ending with her death in 1963, it's displayed as to what made Piaf into the woman she became. A woman who lived a life of exuberant highs and devastating lows, there's something oddly fitting that the last song performed in the film is "Non, je ne regrette rien".

La Vie en Rose isn't perfect but though Cotillard's performance certainly is. It's the kind of performance you only get once in a blue moon when it comes to biopics. As for the film itself? Flawed but still worth a look.

My Rating: ****1/2

Sunday, December 21, 2014

We Are the Best!

There are many films revolving around adolescence. Most of the time these films focus more on late adolescence and the dramas of relationships. (Probably because it's easier to pass off twentysomethings as teenagers.) Very rarely are these films about young teenagers.

That's why Lukas Moodysson's We Are the Best! is a welcoming entry. It's not your average teenage drama a la John Hughes. No, this is a film about, quite simply, growing up.

In stark contrast to other entries of Swedish cinema (and even some of Moodysson's earlier films), We Are the Best! is very lighthearted in regards with its story. It's not interested in anything too heavy. It just wants to show young friendship.

Which brings to the other point of the film. We Are the Best! is one of the very few films from this year that has friendship as a main focus. (Obvious Child being another one.) It's something that should be focuses on more than cheap romance.

We Are the Best! certainly lives up to its title, that's for sure. It's sweet and charming, which are two words not commonly associated with Swedish cinema. It's honestly a film you have to see.

My Rating: *****

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Starred Up

The opening moments of David Mackenzie's Starred Up show Eric Love (Jack O'Connell) as he's led into prison. On first impression, he doesn't seem too bothered by his current situation. It doesn't take long to see why he's in jail. (Of course there's a reason behind that.)

Like other British prison dramas such as Bronson and Hunger, Starred Up focuses on the dehumanizing nature of life behind bars. The main similarity between these three films is they don't sugarcoat things. They want it to be brutal and unflinching.

What's also worth mentioning is how O'Connell shows what Eric's thinking without saying anything. His eyes are almost always looking at the floor. (The few times he does look up it's always with a glare.) It's a small detail but it's something that adds to the performance.

But it's not just O'Connell's show. Also standing their own in Starred Up are Ben Mendelsohn and Rupert Friend. Both of their roles have them trying to help Eric while he's behind bars. But their efforts may be proven fruitless.

Starred Up has some flaws but the work from O'Connell manages to make up for them. It's clear that O'Connell will become a prominent name thanks to this film. Here's hoping that will actually happen.

My Rating: ****1/2

Monday, December 15, 2014

Top Five

There's a certain amount of danger present if you're often in the spotlight as the media tends to depict (and/or embellish). Substance abuse, nasty tabloid gossip, harsh critics...hey, there's no business like show business.

Chris Rock tackles Hollywood with his directorial debut Top Five. He depicts the entertainment industry not as a bloodsucking conglomerate (as it's usually depicted) but rather as one whose participants have only a short time in the spotlight before they're cast aside.

Top Five isn't too far off from other films like The King of Comedy in the sense that it revolves around a "sad clown" so to speak. The comedian who hides their personal problems behind a funny facade, fearing what others will think of them should their true colors surface.

That doesn't make Top Five less funny, mind you. It's thanks to Rock that keeps the film afloat. That said, however, there are flaws within the script. These elements work in some scenes but fail in others. Still, it's a mostly solid result.

Anyway, Top Five is a very funny film (certainly funnier than most other comedies from this year) though it's not without its problems. The many cameos are hilarious and everyone gets their moment in the spotlight. In short, be sure to check out Top Five.

My Rating: ****1/2


Bennett Miller's Foxcatcher that focuses on three men, all of whom are driven by different goals. And like what Miller did with his last two films Capote and Moneyball, he enlisted choice actors for the roles. Those actors are Steve Carell, Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo.

In a stunning departure from his comedic roles, Carell delves into a dark role that's truly chilling. It's clear in some scenes that something isn't right with him, but what? Here's hoping Carell gets more roles like this.

Much like what Carell does, Tatum proves he can be a bonafide actor. It's a role that requires physical and emotional endurance, and Tatum is more than capable of it. Again, here's hoping that Tatum gets more roles like this.

In contrast to his co-star's performances, Ruffalo gives a quieter turn. He gives a performance that has him witnessing all of the silent chaos unfolding. It's only a matter of time before the unthinkable happens.

Foxcatcher is very good though its slow burn might be too slow for some. Still, as is the case with Miller's films, the performances are great. Sometimes you don't know what a person is capable of, whether they're a sinner or a saint.

My Rating: ****1/2

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Force Majeure

Marriage is a fickle thing, isn't it? (Then again, most relationships could qualify.) You feel as if you're with the perfect mate but as time wears on, you realize they're not as perfect as you first thought.

This is certainly a theme that runs throughout Ruben Ostlund's Force Majeure. Throughout the film, there's an aura of doubt amid the characters. What will happen to them by film's end?

What's shown in Force Majeure is how one would behave in the face of danger. But what if your decision has unforeseen consequences? This is a question that lingers throughout the film.

By many means, this is a film not usually expected from the country responsible for Ingmar Bergman. Frequently, Swedish films are of an existential nature. (Though there's a touch of that in Force Majeure as well.) If anything, there's a faint touch of absurdism to the film.

Force Majeure is by no means a brilliant film though it will leave you thinking about it afterwards. Still, it's the kind of film that that some people will have discussions about. (Sort of like any foreign film of this nature.)

My Rating: ****

The Theory of Everything

James Marsh's The Theory of Everything is by no means a perfect film. Its many elements don't always mesh. But when they do, they make for an at least decent film.

Starring in The Theory of Everything is Eddie Redmayne. The amount of physicality required for the role is something reserved only for those capable of it. And Redmayne proves just that. He's been on the rise these last few years, and it's clear that his work here will have him in demand as a result.

Alongside Redmayne is Felicity Jones. Her performance is more subdued than her co-star's but that doesn't make her work any less impressive. It's a quiet role on her part yet what she does with it is fantastic. Jones (who was also great in the underseen The Invisible Woman) will easily become more in demand thanks to this film.

But it's not just Redmayne and Jones' performances that's worth mentioning about The Theory of Everything. There's Johann Johannsson's score, which is simple yet gorgeous. There's also Benoit Delhomme's cinematography, also simple yet gorgeous. Combine them and you got a beautiful combination.

The Theory of Everything is flawed but it's not without its moments. Thanks primarily to the performances from Redmayne and Jones, the film highlights the hardships two people went through throughout the years.

My Rating: ****

Friday, December 12, 2014

Joyeux Noel

World War One. The war to (supposedly) end all wars. So much brutality in four long years. But even amid all of the unspeakable horrors from the fighting, there were times of humanity.

Such was the case of the 1914 Christmas truce as dramatized in Christian Carion's Joyeux Noel. This is a film that highlights kindness beneath the violence, something not often seen in war films. (The Pianist is another good example.)

Even though it's a French production, the film focuses on three different regiments of various armies: Scottish, French and German. It's this detail that adds to the film's nature. Even if they don't share a common language, they do maintain a certain level of civility when they interact.

As with other war films like The Thin Red Line, Joyeux Noel focuses more on the soldiers than the battles. To some, it might take away from the blood and carnage they'd usually expect from a war film. But with Carion's hand, it's something beautiful.

Joyeux Noel is a very lovely film. It's a quiet film certainly, but it's also a film that embraces the kindness of human nature. It's something most war films tend to eschew but Joyeux Noel does it beautifully.

My Rating: *****

Thursday, December 11, 2014

A Field in England

Surrealism in film is something not frequently attempted. If it is, it's only done by those who know how to depict it. (David Lynch being the prime example.)

Ben Wheatley dabbles in surrealism with his film A Field in England. It's certainly not your standard cinematic fare, that's for sure. So what is it? To put it in a word, bizarre. (And even that's an understatement.)

It's Amy Jump's script that makes A Field in England what it is. (Not to mention her editing with Wheatley as well.) Just the sheer strangeness of it all is worthy of a mention. (Again, David Lynch would be proud.)

Also worth mentioning is the cinematography by Laurie Rose. The black-and-white imagery adds to the film's strangeness. Similar to Freddie Francis' work for The Innocents and The Elephant Man, it adds a beauty to the surrealism. A small detail but one worth mentioning.

A Field in England is a truly odd film but Wheatley makes the most of it. It's very much a film for certain tastes only though it's likely anyone would enjoy it. So if you like bizarre films similar to David Lynch's, you'll probably enjoy A Field in England.

My Rating: ****

Monday, December 8, 2014


The opening shot of Sebastian Leilo's Gloria focuses on an older woman as she stands by the bar alone. This woman is our protagonist Gloria (Paulina Garcia). The story about to be told has been told before but rarely from the perspective of an older woman.

A lot of films of this nature are, as mentioned above, focused on women of a certain age. (Or, in other words, mid to late 30s.) The few films that do focus on older women and their romantic lives (Enough Said being a good recent example) are willing to focus on the other aspects of their lives as well.

What Gloria also features is something not frequently depicted is a woman with an active sex life. Usually such behavior is reserved for men because they're supposed to sleep around. But women? Don't even think about it. Thank Leilo for the contrary.

And it's thanks to Garcia's performance that makes Gloria work. She plays Gloria as a woman who doesn't let her age get the better of her, which again is a rarity amongst female roles. It's quiet by many means but it's a performance worth seeing.

Gloria is a really charming film, thanks mainly to Garcia's performance. It's a film that shines a light on a very underseen subject: life after mid-life.

My Rating: ****1/2

Friday, December 5, 2014

Beautiful Boy

The opening shots of Shawn Ku's Beautiful Boy show Bill (Michael Sheen) and Kate (Maria Bello) in happier times. The following scenes show them in unhappy domesticity. (They don't even sleep in the same room.) It's made clear that they're on their way to divorce.

But then, tragedy strikes. Their son becomes a victim in a school shooting. Not just a victim, the actual perpetrator. Amid their grief, will they find that they need each other during this difficult time? Or will their loss drive them further apart?

Grief is a complicated matter and fiction frequently depicts it. (Hey, it's a good source of drama.) People cope with grief in different ways and Beautiful Boy provides two of the more common examples seen in fiction: the one who wallows in grief and the one who steadfastly avoids what happened. It's not anything new but it's still done well.

Sheen and Bello, both fine (albeit underused) actors, make the most of an otherwise average script. They argue, they yell, they cry, they silently blame each other. In essence, what people through grief feel as they try to cope. And both Sheen and Bello provide some solid work.

Beautiful Boy is good but flaws in the script prevent it from being great. Still, the work from Sheen and Bello makes the film worthy of a look. It's not the best of films but it has its moments.

My Rating: ****

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Stranger by the Lake

We all deserve a good thriller every now and again. After all, who doesn't enjoy a bit of a scare once in a while? But what Hollywood has to offer sometimes isn't satisfying enough so what is one to do? Simple: see what the rest of the world has to offer.

Alain Guiraudie's Stranger by the Lake is a thriller that you certainly couldn't make easily by many means. (And not just because of its characters and setting.) It's a daring film to say the least.

But what is it about Stranger by the Lake that makes it so daring? Well, the rather...graphic nature of it. And it's not violence that's being referred to. Honestly, those scenes make In the Realm of the Senses look like In the Mood for Love. (Then again, this is a French film.)

That said, there's more to Stranger by the Lake than just explicit sex scenes. It's also one of the latest films to depict that there's more to people than meets the eye. After all, do you really know the people you meet?

Stranger by the Lake is very good but the sex scenes do take away from the film. That said, Guiraudie has made a film that would make Hitchcock proud. Alas, like Blue is the Warmest Color, sometimes explicit sex scenes don't always add to the story. (At least with Blue is the Warmest Color's first one it was relevant. The other ones, not so much.)

My Rating: ****1/2

Sunday, November 30, 2014


It's made quite clear early on in Paddy Considine's Tyrannosaur that Joseph (Peter Mullan) is a man with a very short temper. (Ah, stereotypes.) But it's also made clear that Joseph is a broken man as well. (We find out that Joseph's a widower.)

One day, he ducks into Hannah's (Olivia Colman) shop. Hannah, by first appearances, seems like she has everything going for her. Then it's revealed that her home life is anything but. (The first scene between her and her husband James (Eddie Marsan) drives that point home rather disturbingly well.)

There have been a number of fictional pieces involving broken people coming together but Tyrannosaur feels different from other works. It's not afraid to show the hell these characters go through. (And it can get pretty gruesome sometimes.) Though it does get a little too involved in some of this hell.

Onto the performances. Marsan is unnerving in the scenes he's in. Mullan in turn shows a warmer, more welcoming side beneath that fiery nature. But the star of the film is easily Colman. Thank God she's become more in demand in recent years.

Even though it gets bogged down in its own darkness, Tyrannosaur is still a good film. (Would you believe this is Considine's first foray as a director?) Thanks to the work from Mullan, Colman and Marsan, the film shows the darker side of human nature.

My Rating: ****

Sunday, November 23, 2014


The relationships we have through our lives are never like the perfect ones we see in the movies. There are differences, jealousies and insecurities, all of which can boil into something messy. (Reality can be a cruel mistress sometimes.)

Xavier Dolan's Heartbeats is one such film to highlight the complicated bonds we form in our lives. Revolving around two friends (Dolan, Monica Chokri) as they vie for the affections of the same man (Niels Schneider), the film depicts how easily personal connections can fray.

Much like Dolan's previous film I Killed My Mother, Heartbeats isn't interested in having you take sides with any of the characters. It's just interested in telling a story. (More films should adhere to this tactic.)

Also like I Killed My Mother, Heartbeats has various shots that make the film essentially the epitome of an art film. But unlike I Killed My Mother, the shots in Heartbeats tend to overwhelm the story. Still, at least with context they make complete sense. (Unlike those in similar art/foreign films.)

Though not as good as his previous film, Dolan does try his best with Heartbeats. He also continues to prove that for a young talent like himself, Dolan knows how to tell a story. Certainly a director to keep an eye on in the years to come.

My Rating: ****

Beyond the Lights

You know how with most female-led films, the plot almost always revolves around the leading lady finding the man of her dreams. (It should be pointed out that these films are often directed/written by people who follow too many Hollywood cliches.) Thankfully, there have been exceptions. (If there weren't any, there wouldn't be anything good to watch.)

There have been a number of male-directed films with strong female leads. (An Unmarried Woman and Opening Night come to mind.) But rarely do you see this applied to films directed by women. If anything, you could count those films on one hand. Long story short, there needs to be more women-directed films with strong female leads.

Gina Prince-Bythewood's Beyond the Lights is one of the new entries featuring a strong female lead. (And a very good one too.) Indeed, the film has a romantic storyline but there's more to the film than that. It's also a story of a woman trying to survive through life.

The film's two leads are Gugu Mbatha-Raw (previously seen in the excellent Belle) and Nate Parker. Both actors are relatively new to audiences, but hopefully they'll get more recognition thanks to this. They're both fantastic here.

A few small flaws aside, Beyond the Lights is great. Thanks to the work from Mbatha-Raw and Parker, the film proves that this is the kind of film we should be getting more often. Just something to keep in mind, you know?

My Rating: ****1/2

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Double

Richard Ayoade's first film Submarine was a clear homage to the works of Wes Anderson, complete with quirky characters and bright colors against neutral backgrounds. So what about his second film The Double? Two words: Alfred Hitchcock.

Bases on the novella by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, the film follows Simon James (Jesse Eisenberg) as he goes basically unnoticed by the world around him. Then he discovers his double James Simon and his life starts to spiral out of control.

From a visual standpoint, The Double is stunning. The film is primarily set at night and Erik Wilson's cinematography makes the most of it. The editing by Chris Dickens and Nick Fenton adds a certain dark humor to the film. (It's also very reminiscent of Dickens' work for Edgar Wright.) Very rarely do the technical aspects of a film work as well as they do here.

And Eisenberg's work simply must be mentioned. Some of Simon's early scenes are very reminiscent of Buster Keaton. (Fitting since Ayoade had Eisenberg watch some of Keaton's films in preparation for his role.) James, meanwhile, is very reminiscent of Eisenberg's work in The Social Network. It's definitely a performance worth seeing.

The Double has a few minor flaws but overall it's a damn good film. Ayoade proves with this film that he's a director to keep a close eye on. He knows how to tell a story.

My Rating: ****1/2

Friday, November 21, 2014

Welcome to Sarajevo

War is hell. We live in a world where we've practically gotten accustomed to the bloodshed between countries. Has there ever been a time in history where war hadn't broke out between at leas two countries?

Even amid all of the chaos, there are acts of humanity among those trying to survive. (Schindler's List provides one of the more famous examples.) Many of such stories were from the World War II era but there have been some from the last twenty or so years.

Michael Winterbottom's Welcome to Sarajevo is one such film to focus on such a story. Based on British journalist Michael Nicholson's experiences during the Bosnian War, the film depicts human behavior even in the most hellish situations. (Even when it's survival of the fittest, human endeavor can prevail.)

Being only familiar with Winterbottom's comedies (24 Hour Party People, The Trip), it was a bit of a shock to see a film of his with such brutal realism. (This was film on location shortly after the peace agreement was signed.) Winterbottom isn't interested in cheap emotions. He wants to tell a story.

It falters in some scenes but Welcome to Sarajevo stays solid in others. Thanks to Frank Cottrell Boyce's script and the work from Stephen Dillane, Woody Harrelson and Marisa Tomei, the film depicts a glimmer of hope amid pure hell.

My Rating: ****

Thursday, November 20, 2014


Every year, we get an absolute menagerie of films. It's a blessing for those who like a wide variety of choices whenever they head to the movie theater. But as is the case with every passing year, there are those films that tend to slip beneath notice.

Such is the case with Lenny Abrahamson's Frank. It's easy to see how it got overlooked upon its release. (Being an indie released in the middle of the summer is one such reason.) But that doesn't mean it should have been ignored.

Usually British-produced films have a certain charm to them, and that is also the case with Frank. In a similar vein to the work of Wes Anderson, the film's charm coincides with its quirks. It's not usually a winning situation to some but it should also be pointed out that the humor of Frank is much darker than the humor in Anderson's films.

Sure, the premise and characters sound like the makings of a very silly film. But behind every happy story, there's tragedy. The film starts off on a whimsical note but it becomes clear as it wears on that there's much more to the characters than they're letting on.

Frank isn't anything groundbreaking but it's an entertaining watch. Thanks mainly to the work from Domhnall Gleeson and Michael Fassbender, the films shows how certain people interact and how it can lead to not-so-ideal situations. (Ah, life.)

My Rating: ****

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Obvious Child

We've seen this cliche time and time again: girl next door gets pregnant after one-night stand, ponders over whether or not to get an abortion, ultimately decides to have baby. To be honest, it's such bullshit thinking a woman will always choose having a child, even if they can't afford raising it. (And don't even think about adoption coming into the picture either.) Like, what the fuck happened to pro-choice?

Thank God for Gillian Robespierre's Obvious Child. For once, we don't have the weepy melodramatic nonsense you normally see in any movie or TV show involving an unplanned pregnancy. (Especially considering this is, you know, a comedy.)

What's also worth mentioning is that Obvious Child doesn't make the unplanned pregnancy the main plot of the film. If anything, the subject is merely a mild conversation starter. Sounds callous, perhaps, but this isn't just a film about abortion. It's also a film about the various connections we make in our lives.

That is actually something most comedies (and occasionally films themselves) tend to skimp on. We've gotten so accustomed to seeing strictly romantic relationships that we've forgotten about how nice just normal friendships are in both fiction and real life. It should be more common.

Obvious Child is one of those films that we should get more often. It doesn't stoop to the lows most comedies fall to. It's smart, funny and above all else, it's clever. If you haven't seen it yet, be sure that you do.

My Rating: *****

Tuesday, November 18, 2014


Prisoners, the last film by Denis Villeneuve, was certainly bleak and dark in its own right. (It is a film revolving around child abductions after all.) But Enemy, the newest work from Villeneuve, is both of those things as well as creepy as hell.

Starring in Enemy is Jake Gyllenhaal, who worked with Villeneuve on Prisoners. Here, Gyllenhaal does the occasionally difficult part in any actor's career: a dual role. In the wrong hands, it would be a disaster. In Gyllenhaal's, it's one hell of a performance.

The two roles Gyllenhaal takes on couldn't be any more different from each other. The first role is Adam Bell, a meek college professor. Much like Gyllenhaal's work in Zodiac, Adam slowly becomes obsessed with something happening within his life. It's really a transfixing performance.

The other role is Anthony Claire, a small-time actor. Much like Gyllenhaal's work in Nightcrawler, Anthony seems like a normal person. That is, until his true colors come to light. Again, it's a really transfixing performance.

Enemy is good though not without its problems. For starters, Gyllenhaal's the only actor to get well-rounded characters. It would've been nice to see what Melanie Laurent and Sarah Gadon could have done with their roles had they'd been more developed. But alas, this is what we have.

My Rating: ****

Monday, November 17, 2014


The world we're a part of is far from perfect. Innocent people are persecuted (and prosecuted) while the true monsters of society walk among us. When will there be justice for those who deserve it?

Jon Stewart's Rosewater is the latest film to ask this question. The film focuses on Iranian journalist Maziar Bahari's arrest following the controversial 2009 presidential election. (It should also be pointed that it was an interview on Stewart's own show that got Bahari in hot water.)

The film stars Gael Garcia Bernal as Bahari. While not exactly his best work (that goes to The Motorcycle Diaries), Bernal does keep the film afloat from beginning to end. Though one has to wonder why Stewart cast a Mexican actor instead of an Iranian one. (Again, Bernal is still good regardless.)

There's no doubt that Stewart's a good news anchor but how are his skills as a director? Rosewater certainly brings the facts of the story to life but it feels too sanitized, even for a film. Admittedly, it feels more like a news story than a film.

That said, however, Rosewater is rather good. Even though you can tell this was made by a first-time director, Stewart does show how the world we live in is far form being idyllic. All it takes for the world in becoming a better place is those willing to speak against their government, even if it'll cost them their freedom (or, for the not so fortunate, their lives).

My Rating: ****


You can never be certain as to what someone is actually like. Sometimes that standoffish person is actually really shy. Or, as seen many times in fiction, the friendly, supportive person in your life is actually your worst nightmare.

Damien Chazelle's Whiplash is the latest entry to depict such a person. There have been a number of films that have played up the theme of looks can be deceiving but very rarely are they portrayed in such an intense light. (And that's saying a lot.)

The film stars Miles Teller, a familiar name in recent years from his work in teen-oriented films. Here, he joins the big leagues. He pushes himself in ways that most actors would shy away from. It's safe to say that he'll be getting meatier roles thanks to this.

Teller may be the star of Whiplash but J.K. Simmons easily steals the film. He makes his presence known whenever he's onscreen. He shoots a glare that says, "I can destroy you, and I fucking will." In short, he's brilliantly terrifying.

Whiplash is an electrifying film. Not since Sweet Smell of Success has a film used two dynamic performances like this. And the jazz. Oh, that sweet and sinister jazz. What is it about that music that brings out the beast in people?

My Rating: *****

Friday, November 14, 2014


You have to admire the meta-induced irony throughout Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's Birdman. After all, the main character is a washed-up actor trying to escape his most famous role in a comic book movie. And who better to play that role than Michael Keaton?

But it's not just about Keaton's casting and performance that should interest you in seeing Birdman. As expected from an Inarritu film, the rest of the actors are great. Among them are Emma Stone, Edward Norton (also playing an exaggerated version of himself), Zach Galifianakis, Andrea Riseborough, Naomi Watts and Amy Ryan. (There's also Lindsay Duncan in a small but effective role.) Of them, Norton stands out the most. (Apparently self-parody is the way to go for acclaim.)

As with any piece of fiction revolving around those in the performing arts, it's only a matter of time before life starts to imitate art for the characters. For Birdman, this is applied on both a fictional and meta level (as previously mentioned). Talk about life being stranger than fiction.

Much like what Joseph A. Valentine, William V. Skall and William H. Ziegler did with Rope, Birdman is shot in a way to make it look like it was shot in one continuous take. Thanks to Emmanuel Lubezki, Douglas Crise and Stephen Mirrione, the film's story becomes more ambitious in depiction. (It's also easy to see why it's a feat not often attempted.)

Birdman is certainly an ambitious film from both a storytelling and production standpoint. It might not rank among some of the other films about show business to others but the handiwork from Inarritu and the actors will certainly keep people talking.

My Rating: *****

Thursday, November 13, 2014


The current generation is facing mounting pressures of finding a steady job as well as settling down the minute they graduate from college. Sure, it's something that previous generations have been taught as well but considering the present state of the economy, the job market and the housing market, they're a bit harder to achieve nowadays.

But of course there are those who feel overwhelmed at their future. (I myself am currently in this situation.) All of the options are there but they don't want to grow up just yet. They just don't want to face all that responsibility so quickly.

Lynn Shelton's Laggies is one such film that revolves around those in the latter situation. Sure, there have been countless films focusing on mid-life crises but what about a quarter-life crisis? Surely you yourself have had one. (I've had several in the last few years.)

Starring in Laggies is Keira Knightley, an actress I've had mixed feelings towards. But here, she has finally won me over. (Okay, this and The Imitation Game.) It was as I was watching the film that I realized that she was more than just the prim and proper lady of various costume dramas.

Laggies is good but if you've seen enough chick flicks, it's rather predictable. Knightley, Chloe Grace Moretz and Sam Rockwell are good but even they can't salvage this. Still, it's a cute enough date movie.

My Rating: ****

St. Vincent

Comedies as of late have been lacking. They all have jokes that are either not funny and/or offensive to a certain demographic. (Unless that's sort of the point from a satirical way.) Can't comedies nowadays just rely on good comedic timing?

Perhaps Theodore Melfi's St. Vincent has answered those prayers. (Sorry.) It's not reliant on crass humor nor the insensitive type. Instead, it revolves around a really dry wit from the main character, something that's more associated on television than in film.

Said main character is played by Bill Murray, which is certainly a role he has specialized for the last thirty plus years. Here, he plays the role as usually expected but with some added heart to it. Sounds like a cliche, perhaps, but it's something that works.

But the film isn't just about Murray. Melfi also enlisted some other choice actors as well. Melissa McCarthy gets a nice serious role to add to her resume. Naomi Watts' role is certainly...something. But the actor who deserves the most attention is Jaeden Lieberher. Anyone who can go toe-to-toe with Murray deserves a mention.

St. Vincent is good but it's nothing too special. The script and the acting are good but overall they're not really anything to write home about. Sure, it's charming but it's just your average comedy. (At least it's not a crude one.)

My Rating: ****

Thursday, November 6, 2014

A Woman's Face

George Cukor is a name synonymous with "women's pictures". Films like The Women (of course), The Philadelphia Story and A Star is Born. Suffice to say it must have felt unusual when he made A Woman's Face, a film noir.

That said, however, A Woman's Face does maintain the common trait of Cukor's other films like Camille and Born Yesterday: women trying to survive in the society they're a part of. And of course with this being a noir, that's the main theme of the film. (Who said this had to be a man's genre?)

In the lead role is Joan Crawford, who at time was only known for glamorous roles like The Women. Here, she got a chance to show off her abilities as an actress. And thank God she got meatier roles as a result of it too (such as her Oscar-winning work in Mildred Pierce).

Also worth mentioning is the way A Woman's Face is shot and framed, courtesy of Robert Planck and Cedric Gibbons. As the title implies, one of the main focuses is that of Crawford's character's face. (The right side of it is heavily scarred for the first third.) Because of this, Crawford is often shot from the left throughout the film. A small detail, but one worth mentioning.

A Woman's Face is a lesser-known film of Cukor and Crawford's careers and it's hard to see why that is. It's as concise as any other noir out there (though to a certain point) and it's just as good as the other films released the same year (The Maltese Falcon, The Lady Eve). So, please, seek this film out.

My Rating: ****

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Key Largo

If there was an undisputed king of film noir, it would probably be Humphrey Bogart. The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, In a Lonely Place...the man could command a room just by being in it.

Surprisingly, in John Huston's Key Largo, Bogart isn't the lone main draw of the film. Indeed, as with any studio film of the time period, the cast is certainly one you can't conjure up nowadays. (Ah, the era of the studio contract.) Among some of Bogart's co-stars are Lionel Barrymore, Lauren Bacall (their fourth and last collaboration), Edward G. Robinson and Claire Trevor. Of them, Robinson and Trevor (who won an Oscar for her work) steal the show.

Even though the general mood of Key Largo is that of a film noir, it doesn't stay that way for the whole film. (In fact, the noir feeling doesn't come into play until Robinson shows up.) The film fluctuates between noir, melodrama and disaster film, a strange menagerie of genres to say the least.

Huston certainly had his fair share of dabbling in different material throughout his career. The general consensus of his work overall ranges from eternal classics (The Treasure of the Sierra Madre) to somber adaptations (The Night of the Iguana) to films that aged like a fine wine (The Misfits). So where does Key Largo fit into? Well, to be honest, it's more of the second category, albeit a flawed entry. (Then again, Huston had his share of misses throughout his career.)

Key Largo is good though certain elements of it show the film's age. (And not generally in a good way.) It's certainly one of the lesser-acclaimed entries of the Huston/Bogart collaboration (and, to an extent, Bogart/Bacall) though it's worthy of a look at least.

My Rating: ****

Saturday, November 1, 2014


Journalists are always depicted two different ways in fiction. One way shows them determined to get their story, even if it involves annoying the police and those close to the case. The other way shows journalists as amoral bastards who are willing to break the law just to get their story.

In regards with Dan Gilroy's Nightcrawler, it is most definitely the latter. Set primarily during the fluorescent-lit nights of Los Angeles, the film is, quite frankly, sheer pulp. And what pulp it is.

The film stars Jake Gyllenhaal in a role that could easily be a spiritual successor to Travis Bickle. He always remains calm (aside from one quick frightening moment), he doesn't swear (apart from one interaction), and he all in all seems pleasant. Then you get to know him.

Nightcrawler itself shows how consumed we've become with sensationalizing everything. We need everything we watch to be eye-catching and graphic. Tabloid headlines, reality TV shows, ripped-from-the-headlines movies...we've become a society that will gleefully watch humanity as we know it crumble to pieces.

Nightcrawler is a film that is clearly a mesh of Taxi Driver, Network and Drive, and it's mystifying. It's bleak, bizarre and maddening. In other words, the very things life itself can become. After all, life can be stranger that fiction.

My Rating: *****

Friday, October 24, 2014


The 1980s were a stormy time throughout the world but especially in the United Kingdom. With Margaret Thatcher in power, many opposed her government's decisions and she made many enemies throughout her eleven-year reign (and up to her death last year). In a tumultuous time like the eighties, enemies are bound to be made.

One of Thatcher's enemies during this time was the National Union of Mineworkers, thanks to her government's decision to reduce the mining industry. Matthew Warchus' Pride focuses on a group of gay and lesbian activists who raise money to help the miners. Their efforts send them to a Welsh village, resulting in an unusual alliance.

Pride is one of those films that will clearly be called a crowd-pleaser. But unlike some other films that are called the same thing, Pride is actually that the whole time. From beginning to end, the film is an absolute delight. Even when the going gets rough, you're still rooting for them.

With any great British film, the cast is fantastic. The names are amongst the likes of the silver screen (Imelda Stauton, Bill Nighy, Paddy Considine), the TV screen (Dominic West, Joseph Gilgun, Andrew Scott) and all those in between. And every single one of them is great.

Pride is simply a film that everyone should see. Not just because of the quality writing and acting but also because of its depiction of people (well, most people) as open and accepting. It's also a world we should be living in rather than the hate-filled prejudicial society we live in now.

My Rating: *****

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Imitation Game

Ever since his big break in Sherlock four years ago (and once or twice before then), Benedict Cumberbatch has specialized a particular role: the flawed genius. The brilliant mind who earns equal praise and contempt from his peers for his intelligence and arrogance, the latter ultimately leading to his downfall. Is it typecasting? Perhaps, but you can't deny he's good at the role.

He continues this trend in Morten Tyldum's The Imitation Game as Alan Turing, the mathematician who cracked Germany's enigma code during World War II. Like many of his other roles, Cumberbatch just radiates an energy unlike any other actor working today. You simply can't take your eyes off him when he's onscreen.

It wasn't arrogance that brought Turing down but rather his lifestyle. (Turing had the misfortune of living in a time where homosexuality was a criminal offence.) But the film doesn't dwell too much on Turing's private life as it does with his achievements, which is both a positive (one shouldn't be judged on their sexual preference) and a negative (opinions on sexuality were much different 60-70 years ago than they are now).

Like several of his last few films, Cumberbatch is alongside an impressive roster of actors. Among some of them are Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Allen Leech, Charles Dance, Mark Strong and Rory Kinnear. They're all good, but Knightley's easily the best of them. Most of her past roles have her as only prim and genteel. Here, she has a much more well-rounded role. (And this is coming from someone not overly fond of her, mind you.)

Although cold in some scenes, The Imitation Game stays mostly consistent throughout. The acting and directing are very good, and Alexandre Desplat's score is simply gorgeous. (Very reminiscent of his work for Atonement.) Though flawed, the film shines a light on a man who was praised in secret and condemned for all to see.

My Rating: ****1/2

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Bad Education

Lies, temptation and betrayal. These are the three things that make for any film noir. Then again, they could also be applied to any good drama. (Seriously, go watch Gone Girl if you don't think that's true.)

Pedro Almodovar often uses those elements for his films but none more so than Bad Education. A throwback to the noirs of days past, the film shows how even if you know someone, you don't really know them.

Like many of Almodovar's films, Bad Education features the occasional throwaway line that becomes crucial later on in the film. And with this being a tribute to film noirs, this Almodovar trademark becomes all the more relevant. It's a small detail, perhaps, but it's one worth mentioning.

And also like Almodovar's other work, Bad Education focuses on the powers of sex and cinema, To some, they're just casual hobbies. But to the characters of Bad Education, they have a form of healing. Strange forms of solace, perhaps, but they can work well to the right people.

Bad Education is definitely one of those films where the main theme is looks can be deceiving. Everyone wears a mask to those around them. It's only a matter of time before those masks begin to slip off.

My Rating: *****

Sunday, October 5, 2014


If there's one thing that's never completely perfect, it's marriage. Sure, the early years might seem perfect, but it's never that way as time wears on. Because after all, who are you really married to?

That's a theme that's been in countless works of fiction, the most recent entry being Gone Girl. It's easily one of the acidic depictions of marriage ever captured. Seriously, you thought George and Martha form Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? had a toxic union.

Gillian Flynn's novel is just dripping with hatred and contempt. Usually that's a trait for perhaps either a lone scene or even a character. But for a whole novel? That is a daring move. (A Jane Austen quote comes to mind: "I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures. None of us want to be in calm waters all our lives.")

Apart from a few tweaks here and there (some scenes/minor characters removed, minor details altered), Flynn keeps the viciousness very much alive in David Fincher's adaptation. And as expected from any Fincher film, the cast is sublime. Everything about the film is so deliciously wicked, but nothing can top Flynn's script. (Oh, and Rosamund Pike's performance.)

But which of the two reigns supreme? The novel is very good (even though some might think otherwise) though Flynn manages to improve it for the film. But both are fine works in their own right, so choosing is a bit hard. (Thankfully, not too hard.)

What's worth checking out?: The movie.

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Trip to Italy

There's a scene in Michael Winterbottom's The Trip to Italy where Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon (once again playing "themselves") discuss the disadvantages of doing a second restaurant review column. Coogan argues that a second anything isn't as great as the first. (Brydon only replies "The Godfather Part II.") An ironic discussion considering The Trip to Italy is just as good (if not better than) the first film.

It's true that sequels aren't usually as great as the original film, but what makes The Trip to Italy stand out is that it has the first film's charm. (Most sequels are absent of that.) It's a small detail but one that works in the long run.

Now this may be because I'm a bit of a film and literature snob, but the various references and discussions throughout the film were a nice touch. Whether it's discussing Lord Byron's own trip to Italy or reminiscing over Italy-set films like Contempt or La Dolce Vita, it's simply a detail that those who admire those things will like. (Again, it could just be me.)

Here's a detail that's worth bringing up: in the first film, there was a subplot of Coogan trying to further his own career and improve his personal life. This time around, it's Brydon facing dilemmas. And much like Coogan's work in the first film, Brydon provides some good dramatic moments as well as comedic.

The Trip to Italy is one of the rare instances where the sequel improves on the original. It's charming, funny and, all in all, very entertaining. And is there a better way to take your mind off your troubles than by watching a comedy?

My Rating: ****

The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them

People are complicated. Everyone knows that. We all have our ups and downs, our good days and bad days. Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond were right when they said nobody was perfect.

That's the running theme throughout Ned Benson's The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them. Revolving around the strained marriage of a young couple, the film depicts how difficult life can become when something unexpected happens. (C'est la vie, after all.)

The film has an eclectic roster of supporting actors. Amongst them are the likes of Viola Davis, William Hurt, Isabelle Huppert and Bill Hader. They all do well within their screentimes but Davis easily steal every scene she's in.

Now onto the leading actors. James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain, both of whom are fine actors, provide good performances in an otherwise decent film. Both have done their fair share of somber roles in the past and this film is no different. However, here there are simply the building blocks for what could have been great performances.

The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them works in some scenes but overall is lacking. (Oh, to have seen the original cut.) All of the actors do their best, but it doesn't feel like it's enough. Still the film does provide a nice glimpse into a certain kind of people. (All the lonely people, where do they all come from?/All the lonely people, where do they all belong?)

My Rating: ****

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Love Is Strange

Hollywood doesn't seem to understand how same-sex relationships should be depicted in films. Ever since Brokeback Mountain (and even before then), films revolving around such relationships are often lit in a melodramatic light. When will same-sex relationships be depicted the like any other relationship?

Thankfully, Ira Sachs' new film Love Is Strange has fulfilled that wish. The relationship depicted is not an angst-riddled one, not in the least. Instead, the bond between George (Alfred Molina) and Ben (John Lithgow) is much more subdued than what's usually depicted. (Not to mention they're adorable together.)

What's also worth mentioning about George and Ben is that their relationship isn't even the prime focus of the film. Instead, the film revolves around everyday life and those close to them. Again, this is a rarity amongst films with LGBT relationships but thanks to Sachs, he makes it work.

Molina and Lithgow, both fine actors, bring their roles to life. They're intimate without being too revealing. They're honest without being blunt. In short, they make their roles human.

Love Is Strange is a sweet little film. There's not a single false note at any point. To sum things up, this film is perhaps the most honest film you will see all year. (And yes, the R rating is stupid.)

My Rating: *****

The Skeleton Twins

It's practically a requirement for a comedian or comedienne at some point in their career to do a serious role. It's true. There have been a number of Saturday Night Live alumni that have dabbled in drama.

And the newest members of the "comedians doing drama" group are Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig thanks to Craig Johnson's The Skeleton Twins. Now I haven't seen much of their work on Saturday Night Live, but what Hader and Wiig do here is amazing. (And I don't say that a lot, mind you.)

To be honest, a film focusing on the same material that The Skeleton Twins doesn't sound like the most appropriate for a comedy. (Then again, it's more of a drama with the occasional funny scene.) But when you have names like Hader and Wiig, all that matters is that the film works.

Now onto the performances. The film co-stars Luke Wilson and Ty Burrell, both of whom are very good in their roles. But The Skeleton Twins is Hader and Wiig's show. They have wonderful moments together, both funny and sad.

While it doesn't work in some scenes, The Skeleton Twins is still overall a very effective film. As mentioned many times throughout this review, Hader and Wiig are well worth the price of admission. Long story short, it's worth checking out.

My Rating: ****

Thursday, September 25, 2014


If there's one thing that can be said about Richard Linklater, it's that the man has patience. After all, he made a trilogy over the span of nearly twenty years, so what else could he be capable of?

The answer is in the form of his new film Boyhood. Shot over a period of twelve years, the film revolves around a young boy as he experiences life around him. And it's not an always happy one either.

It's certainly a bold move on Linklater's part to make Boyhood for that period of time. Sure, there have been films set during that time frame but filmed? It's not commonplace for films, that's for certain.

As is often the case with a Linklater film, the acting is excellent. Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke are very good in their roles but the main highlights are certainly Ellar Coltrane and Lorelei Linklater (the director's own daughter!). It's not very often you see consistent performances from young actors. (Usually such performances are...hollow.)

Boyhood is a one of a kind experience of a film. To repeat a cliche, it's something unlike any other film you've seen. Seriously, be sure to see it before the year's out.

My Rating: *****

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

A Walk Among the Tombstones

Boy, Liam Neeson's career has certainly gone down a different path in recent years, hasn't it? He went from starring in dramas like Schindler's List and Kinsey to starring in action movies like Taken and The Grey. Certainly not the usual roles for an Irish actor in his sixties.

And he continues this trend with his role in Scott Frank's A Walk Among the Tombstones. In many aspects, the film doesn't really provide anything new. That said, however, it does have a few perks to it.

You know how most films of this nature, the main culprits are either drug dealers or member of the mafia? Surprisingly, A Walk Among the Tombstones has the former as supporting characters. (And they're not the vicious kind either.) You don't see that very often, that's for sure.

But does that make A Walk Among the Tombstones good? Well, in two words, not really. It starts off relatively promising before slipping into B-movie material (particularly how women are treated an depicted throughout the film). It's not schlock but it's not too far off from it.

Anyway, A Walk Among the Tombstones is solid in some scenes and flimsy in others. Neeson is good as are Dan Stevens and Boyd Holbrook. But if you want to see a good thriller from Frank, your best bet is in the form of The Lookout.

My Rating: ***1/2

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Drop

Ah, the crime film. Ever since Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese got famous for making them during the seventies, there have been countless other directors trying to repeat the same success. Some have been lucky, some not so much.

So how has Michael R. Roskam fared with his new film The Drop? Well, on the one hand, the film does provide entertainment to those who watch it. But on the other hand, it doesn't really provide anything new.

That said, the people involved are rather impressive. It's written by Dennis Lehane (the film's based on a short story of Lehane's), and the film certainly has a similar mood to that of Mystic River and Gone Baby Gone. Among the actors involved are Tom Hardy, James Gandolfini (in perhaps fittingly his last film role), Noomi Rapace and Matthais Schoenaerts, all of whom do very well.

Back to the original point. The Drop for the most part follows the usual crime film conventions. Trying to stay out of the game, violent criminals, obvious fates for certain characters...these have been seen time and time again throughout the film industry. You'd think for the author of Mystic River and Gone Baby Gone Lehane would've been able to come up with something new.

Long story short, The Drop is good but not great. Sure, the acting and directing are good, but the plot could have been used a little work. Still, it's pretty solid enough to warrant a look.

My Rating: ****

Tuesday, September 16, 2014


One of the qualms I have with thrillers is that they're too clean cut most of the time. They often revolve around a government conspiracy that gets resolved within the span of two hours. I mean, there have been good ones throughout the years like The China Syndrome and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy but all of the other ones follow the same formula.

That's why Morten Tyldum's Headhunters is a very refreshing change of pace from some of the more recent thrillers. It doesn't revolve around a mass conspiracy, not in the slightest. Instead, the conspiracy hones in on one person: corporate recruiter/art thief Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie).

But who would put Roger through such an ordeal? The answer is in the form of Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), the executive of a company. The reason? Well, let's just say Roger didn't exactly make a wise decision in trying to rob Clas. (Certainly not the wisest thing to do if you just met the guy.)

What Tyldum does throughout Headhunters is he builds suspense at a steady pace. Usually films of this nature reveal too much or not enough in the short amount of time they have. But Tyldum uses the right amount of build-up for his film and boy, does it work.

Headhunters is one damn good film. Tyldum weaves a story that gets more and more fascinating as it unfolds. I wonder what Tyldum has in store for his next film...

My Rating: *****

Sunday, September 14, 2014

A Most Wanted Man

It's surreal to watch an actor in a film released posthumously. Their presence throughout the film is felt but no longer in real life. It's a very bittersweet feeling.

Without a doubt, this is the case with Philip Seymour Hoffman in Anton Corbijn's A Most Wanted Man. As pretty much everyone can attest to, Hoffman was one of those actors that always made any film better. But since his passing this February, this sentiment is still very much shared.

A Most Wanted Man is similar to other adaptations of John le Carre's work like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and The Constant Gardener. It builds with a slow burn, perhaps too slow a burn in some scenes. Not that it's a total flaw, mind you. It gives the film more time to focus on character interactions.

Corbijn (who also directed Control, one of my favorite films) directs the film with a keen eye. With cinematographer Benoit Delhomme, Corbijn makes every shot stand out with a certain color palette within each scene. (No surprise since Corbijn was a photographer before becoming a director.) It's a director's touch not often seen.

A Most Wanted Man is well done but rather bleak. (Perhaps because the shadow of Hoffman's passing looms over it?) Hoffman, as well as Rachel McAdams, Willem Dafoe and Robin Wright, give exceptional performances. Ignoring Mockingjay for a moment, the final shot of A Most Wanted Man could easily be the perfect ending for a career as prominent as Hoffman's.

My Rating: ****

Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Trip

This is more of a small observation I've made in recent years, but the Brits really know how to make quality films and television. (Trust me, I've seen a lot amongst both fields.) Whether it be comedy or drama, those across the pond really know what they're doing.

The newest entry I've seen from the United Kingdom is Michael Winterbottom's The Trip. On paper, it doesn't sound like your average comedy. But it's actually quite clever as you watch it.

The film stars comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, both of whom I'm rather familiar with. (Coogan from films like 24 Hour Party People and Philomena; Brydon from panel shows like Would I Lie to You? and QI.) Now both men by themselves are funny. Together: priceless.

The thing about most comedies it that they're usually a mix of scripted material and improv. In the case of The Trip, it's mostly improv. (Then again, it is a film starring Coogan and Brydon as exaggerated versions of themselves.) The amount of self-deprecation throughout the film isn't something usually seen in comedies but it is British humor we're talking about, so that should come as no surprise.

The Trip is a rather charming film. (In the British sense, mind you.) Admittedly, the ending sort of altered the mood of the film (and it might have broken my heart a little) but that doesn't make the film any less solid. After all, a good comedy does one good.

My Rating: ****

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Nine Lives

Do you know what one of the problems in Hollywood is? Not enough well-written roles for women. Sure, there are some on television within such shows as Mad Men and Masters of Sex, but it's lacking when it comes to film. It only takes the right person to create an at least decent role for an actress.

Rodrigo Garcia is thankfully one such person. The proof is Nine Lives. A series of, well, nine vignettes, the film focuses on women as their lives take an unexpected turn. Some good, some bad, some life-altering.

The vignettes are similar to the likes of a Robert Altman film in the sense of quality performances from a wide range of actors. But unlike Altman's film, Garcia has his vignettes shot in one continuous take courtesy of cinematographer Xavier Perez Grobet. It's something not normally seen in the average film, but it's certainly daring.

Speaking of the actors, Garcia certainly got an enviable roster of actors for his film. (I mean, just look at the names on the poster.) In their limited screentimes, they all provide top notch performances. Some are better than others, granted, but it's clear that some of the actors are giving career best work.

Yes, some of the vignettes aren't as great as the others, but that doesn't lessen Nine Lives' value. (My personal favorite was "Lorna" with "Diana" and "Sonia" as close seconds.) To be honest, I don't understand why more people haven't seen it. After all, it's a testament of writing and acting at its finest.

My Rating: ****

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Hunt

Be careful of what you hear. The power of one's words can easily get blown out of proportion. They can also destroy one's reputation. (Atonement provides one such example.)

Thomas Vinterberg's The Hunt is another stellar example. But rather than revolving around what was said, the film focuses one the reactions to what was said. And boy, it ain't pretty.

The film focuses on Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen), a man who recently got his life back in order. But a nasty rumor starts to circulate in his small town, and it's possible that Lucas' reputation could get ruined.

It's thanks to Vinterberg's direction and Mikkelsen's performance that make The Hunt work. You expect at some point for Lucas to slowly crack under pressure but throughout the film, he remains resilient until it's finally too much. Again, Vinterberg's direction and Mikkelsen's performance, both unflinching, are what make the film work.

By many means, The Hunt is a quiet film but it doesn't stay that way the whole time. As well as being incredibly dark (even considering its subject matter), the film also convinced me that the human race is a vicious one. We just need that one provocation, and only God knows what'll happen next...

My Rating: *****

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Hard Candy

The opening scene of David Slade's Hard Candy focuses on a supposedly innocent online chat. The Hayley (Ellen Page) and Jeff (Patrick Wilson) meet in person. The noticeable age difference aside, they get along very well...then things start to change.

Those are the best kind of films, aren't they? The ones that start off normal and slowly become something more twisted. Boy, does Slade know how to weave such a tale. (It's almost a shame that he would do a Twilight movie a few years later.)

It's also a strong testament when a film relies only on two actors to carry the story. (Both relative unknowns at the time too!) Most films of this nature usually require actors who are well-established throughout Hollywood. But Slade enlists the likes of Page and Wilson (both of whom not too far off from their big breaks) and damn, does it work.

Here's the interesting thing about Hayley's actions: we don't know why she's doing what she's doing. She doesn't give any hints that something of this nature had happened to her personally. Is Hayley retaliating or is she simply a devil with the face of an angel? Forget Juno; this is the role that should have gotten Page a nomination.

Although it loses steam in parts, Hard Candy is a thoroughly effective film. Thanks to the work from Page and Wilson (both of whom need to be in more stuff), the film proves that looks can be very deceiving. (It's true, you know.)

My Rating: ****

Saturday, August 23, 2014


In the opening scene of John Michael McDonagh's Calvary, the fate of Father James (Brendan Gleeson) is sealed by an unseen presence. In that scene, we witness Gleeson's face as Father James tries to process what he's been told. It's a lingering long take that resonates for the rest of the film.

But what does McDonagh's film revolve around afterwards? Simply put, it focuses on Father James in the days after his fate becomes sealed and the various townsfolk he encounters. To anyone else, no one would think too much about menial moments like those. But to Father James, with his days numbered, they take on a new meaning.

With Calvary, McDonagh does an inversion from his last film The Guard. Rather than having a morally corrupt lead around good people, Calvary features a good lead around morally corrupt people. But rather than being a dark comedy like The Guard, Calvary opts for a more serious and somber tone.

McDonagh also got a rather impressive (and very Irish) cast. As well as Gleeson, the cast features the likes of Kelly Reilly, Aidan Gillen, Chris O'Dowd and Dylan Moran. (There's also Domhall Gleeson as an one-scene wonder.) They're all great but this easily Gleeson's show. Without a doubt, this is his best work as an actor.

Calvary is a quiet by many means but it also provides the impact when it's required. Thanks to McDonagh's direction and Gleeson's performance, the film shows how darkness lingers where you least expect it.

My Rating: ****

Friday, August 22, 2014

What If

Can a man and a woman stay friends and only friends? It's a question that has been asked since, well, When Harry Met Sally brought it up. Many other films have been trying to ask that question since then, and the answer is usually "no". But is it possible?

Michael Dowse's What If (or The F Word as it's known everywhere else) is the newest film to ask that question. In a way, the film is similar to When Harry Met Sally in regards with some character interactions. But What If also examines a recent phenomenon that When Harry Met Sally didn't have a name for: the "friend zone".

Admittedly, the "friend zone" isn't something I like hearing about on a semi-regular basis (particularly from the "spurned" side of the situation). However, I'm willing to hear one's take on the matter. And Dowse provides a variation where the two friends are actually fine with their current situation but everyone else thinks it won't stay that way for very long. (Though admittedly that's another trope altogether.)

But who are the two halves of this "just friends" situation? Well, they're played by Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan, and they both provide an honesty to their roles. Their characters of Wallace and Chantry show a genuine connection throughout their scenes, something that's often lacking in other romantic comedies.

Though it doesn't break any new ground, What If is still a rather charming film. It has its fair share of rom-com cliches but thanks to Dowse, Radcliffe and Kazan, they provide variations of them. What If is without a doubt a nice change of pace from the last few romantic comedies we've been getting lately.

My Rating: ****