Pages

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

FESTIVAL REVIEW: Mommy

MOVIE
Mommy

CAST
Anne Dorval,
Antoine-Olivier Pilon

RATING
TBA (It's gonna be R)

RELEASE
TBA

DIRECTOR
Xavier Dolan

STUDIO
Roadside Attractions

RUNNING TIME
2 hours 14 minutes




STARS
****







REVIEW:

For those who are lucky enough to have a motherly figure in their life, then you will know that everyone's relationship with their mom differs from person to person. Even siblings may have different relationships with their parents, depending on the number of parents and their genders. Xavier Dolan's latest film "Mommy" explores a few months in the life of Diane, aka "Die," and her 15 year old son Steve, whose violent temper causes much difficulty in his mother's life. Things get more interesting when a new neighbor named Kyla moves in across the street and begins to develop a friendship with the mother and son duo. While this might sound like any other dysfunctional family themed film out there, what Dolan does here is essentially captures the brutal and harsh nature of life while showcasing how this mom tries to work with it all, even when her son keeps screwing things up.  Thanks to Dolan's expertly written script and his keen since of direction, as well as some amazing cinematography and Award-worthy performances from its two leads, "Mommy" is an absolute masterwork that is funny, heartbreaking, and relatable all-around.

Xavier Dolan is only 25 years old and he's already made five feature films, including "Mommy." To have a guy with his whole life ahead of him and having accomplished so much as a filmmaker already is truly remarkable. Not to mention, Dolan has made a dysfunctional family movie that may connect strongly to a massive amount of people. Personally speaking, I saw a lot of myself in the character of Steve, and I saw a lot of my own mother in Die, and the way those two work and argue with each other in some scenes were very similar to situations my mom and I have had. I just have to point out, for those who have seen the film, that I'm not referring to the "incest" tones that are present in the film, more-so referring to some of the more light-hearted moments, as well as some of the minor arguments had in the movie.

The most fascinating thing about this movie, without question, is the aspect ratio that it's presented in. Instead of having either the typical 1:85:1 (typical widescreen format) or the 2:35:1 ratios, (the stretched out "cinematic" format) this movie uses the incredibly rare aspect ratio of 1:1, usually only seen in old-school photography. According to Dolan, this technique is used to showcase the central focus of a scene without having any distractions around it. To me, since the aspect ratio actually changes a couple of times in the film, I have a different interpretation. When the ratio changed, I personally felt that it was resembling moments of sheer joy and happiness with the characters before changing back to the 1:1 ratio and showing the harsh realities of a situation. As a aspiring filmmaker, I thought the way Dolan did this technique was absolutely brilliant, and hopefully is something that is further experimented upon in future films in general.

The acting in this movie is absolutely fantastic, simple as that.  Dorval's portrayal as "D.i.e" is both funny at times and incredibly real. Everything she does in the film, from her decisions in regards to Steve, to the lines of dialogue spoken, all serve a purpose to this character, thus making her a lot more enjoyable and all the more mesmerizing.  The true scene-stealer, for me personally, had to be Pilon's portrayal of the trouble-maker Steve. In short, Pilon is a ticking time-bomb in this film, with the audience never quite knowing when he is going to explode in rage. This guy is someone not to mess with and, if Hollywood is smart enough, will be seen a lot more in the future. Pilon overall is funny, out of control, and just flat out brilliant here. The other main star of the film is Suzanne ClĂ©ment, who plays the mysterious neighbor of "Die and Steve, Kyla. She's not as great to me as the other leads are, but when Dolan gives her character the ability to shine, she does that with grace.

"Mommy" is the type of movie that, despite being in French with subtitles, can cross barriers and be enjoyed by and resonate with people worldwide. We might not all be single/struggling mothers or teens with a violent temper, but it's their bond together and the struggles that they face that allows the audience member to put themselves into the characters' shoes. Xavier Dolan is a young Canadian force to be reckoned with, and someone whose previous films have shot towards the top of my personal watch list. Everything might seem boxed in at times due to the unusual aspect ratio, but once you see past that, this film becomes an emotional journey that doesn't let its smaller screen ratio change its quality whatsoever. In fact, it simply embraces it and sort of makes it its own character into the story itself. When a movie can make how large a film's presentation is a metaphorical character into the story, then it must be doing something unique and great. Overall, "Mommy" is a brilliant and magnificent drama that manages to capture the tragedy, light-hearted, raunchy, and grittiest parts of the relationship between a mom and her child.



Tuesday, October 21, 2014

MINI-REVIEW: Stretch

MOVIE
Stretch

CAST
Patrick Wilson, Ed Helms

RATING
R

RELEASE
October 7, 2014 (iTunes)

DIRECTOR
Joe Carnahan

STUDIO
Universal Pictures

RUNNING TIME
1 hour 35 minutes






STARS
***3/4







REVIEW:

Tell me if you've heard this one before: a studio is so skeptical on a movie with a $5 million budget that they decide to remove its theatrical release date and instead release it only on VOD.  If you haven't heard that before, then you have now, as "Stretch" had exactly that happen to it.  This film comes from director Joe Carnahan, whose work has ranged from silly 80s remakes like "The A-Team" to serious Oscar-worthy films like "The Grey."  The film also boasts from an impressive cast, including the likes of Patrick Wilson, Ed Helms, and Jessica Alba.  "Stretch" in a nutshell is a 95 minute R rated action caper about a limo driver who ends up getting involved with the wrong person on the wrong night.  If that doesn't sound so bad to you, then you're most likely wondering why exactly Universal decided to take this off its theatrical release schedule.  In truth, I don't know why they did it, as this is a far superior film to most of Universal's most recent films.

Everyone in the cast, ranging from Patrick Wilson's electrifying lead role as the titular character to Ed Helms' whacked out performance as a man haunting Stretch's crazy imagination, are all great.  Even the cameos are well presented and extremely funny to watch.  However, the one performance that stood out among all of the others, without a doubt, was Chris Pine's role as Karos.  If you thought Pine was great in the "Star Trek" films, then wait until you see him here.  From the moment he appears on screen, Pine is an absolute madman in this beard-dwelling character and clearly shows that he's having a great time doing it.  Think of him as if The Dude snorted some cocaine and then took some ecstasy right after.  To me, this is the type of role that, if Universal had released this in theaters and had tried to do some kind of Awards strategy, could have gotten Pine an Oscar nomination.  Many people would most likely disagree with me on this, but that just shows how much I loved him in this flick.  This is the type of performance that just shows what the term "scene-stealer" really means.

I've always admired Joe Carnahan's style of directing, as well as his keen sense of screenwriting.  It really shows that this movie was a passion project of his due to the absurdity and "off-the-walls" craziness presented here.  Sure there are plot points that are extremely predictable, but as a homage to 80s action movies, were you really expecting something else?  I've seen lots of 80s homages before, as it seems to be the latest trend in Hollywood.  However, what makes this one stand out from the others is the fact that it takes the typical tropes and characters seen in those types of movies, and somehow morphs them all into original and unique things.  And that alone makes me very happy to recommend this film to you.  If you want to see a film that is campy, hilarious, brutal, and just plain fun, then "Stretch" is most definitely the film for your precious, movie-hungry eyes.  I may question Universal's decision to release this only on VOD and release films like "Ride Along" to the big screen.




MINI-REVIEW: Gone Girl

MOVIE
Gone Girl

CAST
Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike

RATING
R

RELEASE
October 3, 2014

DIRECTOR
David Fincher

STUDIO
20th Century Fox

RUNNING TIME
2 hours 29 minutes







STARS
***3/4








REVIEW:

"Gone Girl" is like a fishing rod: it hooks you in with its director, cast, and story, and then it keeps pulling and pulling and pulling until it has you in its clutches.  That is only the first 90 or so minutes of the film, as the next hour continues to take you, broil you up, put you on a nice plate, and then eats your mind up for dinner.  Whether that last bit is a good thing or not depends on the person, but it does end up leaving an impact on the viewer to say the least.  Author Gillian Flynn adapted her book into this film's screenplay, and the basic premise is that a wife goes missing and the husband soon becomes accused of carrying the crime out.  The question at hand is whether or not he did it, but I won't answer that at all.  I will say this, though: "Gone Girl" is a brilliant movie, filled with superb performances and a sharp script filled with twists, suspense, and even some dark humor.  Why I can't give this a perfect score, though, is due to two things: the ending of the film and the fact that I didn't fully resonate with it.  Other than that, this is pretty much another David Fincher work of art.

If you had any doubts that Ben Affleck would be a great Batman, then here is proof that he is more than qualified for the role as The Caped Crusader.  A lot of people might be talking about how amazing Rosamund Pike's performance, and believe me she is also great here, but to me Affleck impressed more because he showed just how capable he is as a serious actor.  I give him more credit for being able to use his directing abilities to try to find the best performance in himself while working for someone as talented as David Fincher.  Another real surprise for me here came in the form of Tyler Perry.  Despite mostly having his "Madea" films to back his career up, Perry proves here that he can actually give a really good performance if he worked with other talented directors once in a while.  Neil Patrick Harris was fine here, but to me, he felt a bit out of place and seemed a bit too much like a stalker version of his character on "How I Met Your Mother."  There aren't any bad performances here at all, but for me the two standouts were Affleck and Perry.

Fincher and Flynn work together hand in hand on this film, with Fincher managing to get the best performances out of his actors and the most suspense out of his film entirely and Flynn giving the movie the twists and turns that keeps it engaging.  Aside from the ending, which I found to be anticlimactic and just not the way I had hoped for it to end, "Gone Girl" is overall a great movie.  The film is darkly funny, suspenseful all around, and has some of the best twists that you'll see in any film this year.  It might not be in my top 10 of the year at the moment, but I can't deny how well the film is directed and written.  Some may not enjoy this film as much as I, and those who have read the book may complain about some of the changes that were made.  Having not read the book itself, I can only judge from the 2 and a half hour flick that I saw, and wouldn't you know it, this is a movie I'd highly recommend checking out.  This is especially something to check out if you're in to the whole "Oscar Season" fad that goes on every fall.




PREVIEWS YOU MAY SEE:

The Theory of Everything

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1

American Sniper

Fifty Shades of Grey

Fury

Kingsman: The Secret Service

Exodus: Gods and Kings






Monday, October 13, 2014

MINI-REVIEW: The Skeleton Twins

MOVIE
The Skeleton Twins

CAST
Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig

RATING
R

RELEASE
September 12, 2014

DIRECTOR
Craig Johnson

STUDIO(S)
Lionsgate,
Roadside Attractions

RUNNING TIME
1 hour 33 minutes





STARS
***1/2







REVIEW:

When the names Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig pop up in a sentence together, the usual thought that follows involves their many hilarious sketches on "Saturday Night Live."  The last thing I think anyone would associate these two comedic powerhouses with is serious family dramatic issues.  And yet, that is exactly what "The Skeleton Twins" says it will be giving to us in its shocking opening scene.  Hader and Wiig play two twins, Milo and Maggie, who haven't seen or spoken to one another for a decade.  After they both have their little brushes with death, Milo agrees to come stay at Maggie's home until he can get back on his feet.  There he encounters old flames, dark secrets, and the struggles that many people face when trying to make tough decisions with their lives.  While the film is funny at times, it's really the sibling drama between the two leads that elevates this film to its potential.  While not a perfect movie, "The Skeleton Twins" is a great showcase at how great Hader and Wiig are when given the task to do dramatic work, as well as a solid showcase of the talents of filmmaker Craig Johnson.

I feel like this is the perfect movie for brothers and sisters to see together, especially if they don't have particularly the best relationship.  I saw a lot of my sister and self in Milo and Maggie, especially during this one scene involving the characters lip-syncing a nostalgic song of theirs in order to clear their heads.  That scene happens to be possibly my favorite scene from a movie this year thus far, so that should be saying something at how great Hader and Wiig's chemistry is here.  Although my sibling and I argue and bicker a lot, as all siblings do, we are still protective and loving for one another.  Hader and Wiig's performances, as well as the cleverly written script by Johnson and Mark Heyman, help to showcase not only a realistic portrayal of the struggles and upsides of a brother/sister relationship, but it also crafts a well constructed story that, despite not clearly explaining everything that happens, is relatable and incredibly moving.

I would have liked to have seen more of the comedic flair that the two leads are known for, but at the same time, I understand why the writers chose not to do this.  And in the end, what was given in "The Skeleton Twins" is a movie that I would recommend people checking out, especially if either A.) they are huge fans of Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig, B.) they have siblings, or C.) both.  People might be disappointed that this isn't a full-blown comedy, but the overall product produced here is something real and authentic, which is a bit hard to find these days.  So at the end of the day, if "The Skeleton Twins" is playing near you, I'd say that it's definitely an indie gem out there now to check out.  It might not be one of the many movies going out to win an Academy Award, but seeing two "SNL" alums doing dramatic roles is something of a marvel to behold.





PREVIEWS YOU MAY SEE:

Kill The Messenger

Birdman

Laggies

Pride

The Judge




Friday, October 10, 2014

REVIEW: Open Windows


MOVIE
Open Windows

CAST
Elijah Wood, Sasha Grey

RATING
NR

RELEASE
October 2, 2014 (VOD)
November 7, 2014 (LIMITED)

DIRECTOR
Nacho Vigalondo

STUDIO
Cinedigm

RUNNING TIME
1 hour 40 minutes




STARS
**1/2







REVIEW:

Earlier in the year, Elijah Wood starred in a small little thriller called “Grand Piano,” in which he is a retired pianist listening to a man on an earpiece who is threatening his life if he gets any note wrong during his comeback concert.  A film that premiered at SXSW this year is yet another indie Elijah Wood thriller called “Open Windows,” something that, when I first saw it, I found both more engaging and far superior to “Grand Piano."  This movie is about Nick Chambers, the owner of a fan website for Jill Goddard, the IT girl of Hollywood at the moment, who is rejected by said actress out of a dinner date that he won through a promotional campaign for her new film. In a flash, Nick is encountered by Chord, a man who at first says he is Jill’s publicist, who helps Nick hack into Jill’s electronic devices. Pretty soon, Nick realizes that Chord is really using Nick to merely hunt down and possibly kill Jill. Starring alongside Wood is porn star Sasha Grey, who might be best known outside of the porn industry for her work in Steven Soderbergh’s “The Girlfriend Experience.”

This is a movie that is unique in the way it's presented, as the entire film is told from the perspective of Nick Chambers' computer monitor.  Honestly, though, that's the biggest compliment I can give the film.  Despite some solid work from Elijah Wood and Sasha Grey, "Open Windows" doesn't go anywhere unique or interesting enough for me to actually care about what's going on.  I actually saw this film all the way back in March when I got sent a downloadable screener of the film for its premiere at SXSW, and I actually enjoyed it a lot back then.  In fact, I at the time thought it was smarter and a lot better than "Grand Piano."  I figured I'd rewatch it again for the sake of writing the most accurate review possible, and boy was this a letdown on the second viewing.

The direction itself from director Nacho Vigalondo wasn't that bad, as the performances from the two leads weren't bad and there was a decent amount of suspense and mystery present throughout the film's 100 minute duration.  However, it's the script that drove down the film in quality.  Not only are some of the lines written poorly and the villain is terribly written, but there is a random subplot with this French organization talking to Nick while he's talking with Chord thinking that Nick is Chord.  I think it would have been more interesting as a viewer to have had all of my time focused on Nick talking to only Chord, and maybe writing a spin-off story for these other characters as they didn't impact the story whatsoever.  Not to mention, there are several twists that are in the movie that make absolutely no sense and just show that Vigalondo was trying to put in as many ideas as he could without giving the film the proper amount of time and the proper narrative to explore all of these characteristics.

Overall, "Open Windows" is purely a mixed bag for this critic.  Despite a unique concept, some solid performances, and decent direction, there is just too much going on and too many things that bring the film down to just an average level.  If this film had explained why the villain is doing what he's doing, or maybe even diving deeper into his background and psychosis, then maybe the film would have elevated in quality.  Not to mention, if the twists had been further explained and were more plausible in the overall outcome of the film then I think the film would have connected more with me as a viewer.  "Open Windows" has a really interesting story and a clever storytelling technique, but that doesn't take away from the fact that this really isn't that great of a film in the long run.