Archive For The “Film Reviews” Category
Written & Directed by Josef Fares
Cinematography by Aril Wretblad
Starring Imad Creidi, Antoinette Turk, Elias Gergi
Josef Fares is the quintessential foreign director. He wears designer tees and faded jeans, has slicked back hair and a neat five o’clock shadow. He crosses his legs when he talks and stuffs concentrated nicotine patches (available only in Sweden) under his lip and on his gums. His latest film, Zozo, is a personal story of Fares, who was, like the main character, born in Lebanon before relocating to Sweden. Zozo is incredibly emotional and surprisingly uplifting, a tale of survival of the fittest with a kid barely old enough to ride a bike.
Zozo is the story of a young Lebanese boy who dreams of escaping to Sweden, away from the war torn country he calls home, longing to meet his grandparents across the border. Zozo is a very complex story with many ideas that could branch off into stories themselves.
One of these stories, maybe the event that fuels the entire film, is the tragic death of his loving mother, goodhearted father and teenage sister after a bomb hits their small house. Zozo and his brother escape as bombs tear apart the sidewalk and streets they traverse, a visually stunning scene, the sound of dropping bombs filling the increasingly silent theatre.
Shortly after the fleeing from his house, after seeing his mother’s leg nearly 10 feet from her body, Zozo hides in a garbage dumpster, while his brother goes for help. His brother is gunned done instantly, leaving Zozo alone with his only friend, a bright yellow chick he met earlier while saying goodbye to his best friends.
Zozo, hungry and alone, tries to use sympathy to retrieve a piece of bread. When his pathetic attempt fails, Zozo meets Rita, who buys the piece of bread and scornfully scolds the bread vendor, using her father’s position as head of the laundry mat to garner respect.
Together, Rita and Zozo plan to escape to Sweden. Their plans are spoiled when their cab across the border is stopped and searched. Rita’s abusive father is called and she is whisked away quick, never to be seen again by the cupid struck Zozo.
In Sweden, Zozo meets his grandparents and begins another chapter of his life.
The second part of the film is very ambiguous and slightly disappointing. Although I not only relate to Zozo as an adolescent looking for acceptance, but I also sympathize the war he’s already fighting, the war to start a new family.
Zozo’s grandfather is a no-nonsense old man with false teeth and a mean left hook. Zozo is instantly picked on at school, which leads to a flurry of punches and kicks from three older kids who leave Zozo’s face bloodied and bruised. Zozo’s grandfather repeatedly preaches self-defense, an act that the passive Zozo is reluctant to attempt.
Zozo quickly befriends half of his class after buying (eventually stealing) pencils and erasers from a local store. He is ratted out by his class, which leads to a sudden outburst of anger from Zozo, who throws his desk against the classroom wall. Once again, alone and confused, Zozo is confronted by the quiet and equally passive Leo, a young classmate who looks surprisingly like a young Mick Jagger.
Together, Zozo and Leo create a relationship based on sympathy for one another, a lasting friendship they both benefit from.
In order to preserve the turning points of the film, I’ll leave you with a few facts about Zozo and the effect it had at the 2nd Annual Bahamas International Film:
– Zozo won the Spirit of Freedom Award for Best Narrative Film.
– The film came close to winning the audience award after receiving a nearly unanimous standing ovation after the screening.
– Zozo was regarded as one of the strongest films at the festival.
Zozo is a very good film by a very talented director. The film is told in two sections, two very good sections, that can move the audience deeply or leave it begging for a little more. Josef Fares obviously knows how to make films, good films, and may soon have a larger impact on the direction and future of foreign filmmakers.
Written by George Nolfi
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Cinematography by Steven Soderbergh (as Peter Andrews)
Starring Brad Pitt, Catherine Zeta-Jones, George Clooney
Steven Soderbergh can make great movies. Check his resume, which goes from the Cannes-winning sex, lies and videotape, to the Oscar-winning Traffic, Soderbergh has the ability to put the audience into something more than a movie, something more than a 2-hour film that can leave the audience bored and depleted.
With his newest film, Ocean’s 12, Soderbergh has relied too much on the success of the original, Ocean’s 11. Unlike its sequel, Ocean’s 11 told a story, which made sense at the end and left the audience feeling proud of themselves that they figured out how the robbery was pulled off. In Ocean’s 12, there was no story, there was no plot.
Despite the lack of formulation that seemed to drag the film on for more than it’s apparent 2-hour running time, the dialogue in the film was masterful, picking up the quirky one-liners that made Ocean’s 11 an oft-quoted movie. All the acting is superb with basically the entire cast from the original movie returning, plus the addition of Catherine Zeta-Jones as a blood-thirsty detective who has the hots for Brad Pitt’s hilarious character Rusty Ryan.
The film, which is set three years after the gang pulled off the greatest casino robbery in Las Vegas history, shows an upset Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia) personally addressing each member of the original crew and demanding his money back with interest, which adds up to roughly $97 million. Being “too hot” to work anywhere in America, Danny Ocean (George Clooney) and his team travel to Europe to pull off three separate heists with not only Benedict on their tails, but Europol’s top agent Isabelle Lahiri (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and a thief known only as Nightfox close on their tails.
Ocean’s 12 will more than likely be a box office success thanks to its twelve big name superstars and a few cameo appearances from their friends. The script is very funny and the directing, as any other Soderbergh film would be, is superb. But, a film can’t run without legs and that seems to be the only thing that Ocean’s 12 is lacking.
Written & Directed by Paul Haggis
Story by Paul Haggis & mark Boal
Cinematography by Roger Deakins
Starring Tommy Lee Jones, Charlize Theron, Jonathan Tucker
The best way to teach filmmakers how to make films is by giving them examples of how to master the craft, how to perfect every aspect of the filmmaking process. I find myself carrying a laptop to nearly every screening to take down scrupulous notes in order to learn the structure of film by, well, watching films.
Aside from Woody Allen’s 2005 sleeper hit Match Point and the Coen Brother’s No Country for Old Men, very few movies are able to convey a message and captivate an audience using the basic principles of filmmaking: character, plot and conflict.
But, in Paul Haggis’s emotional powerhouse, In The Valley of Elah, the 2-time Academy-Award winner proves that he’s becoming an important writer-slash-director in Hollywood without relying on lucrative special effects or raunchy sex scenes. In fact, “Valley” has no overt sensuality, no unnecessary profanity, no unexplained plot twists; it is filmmaking in the most minimal form.
Tommy Lee Jones gives an Oscar caliber performance as Hank Deerfield, a no nonsense retired military policeman searching for his youngest son, Mike (Jonathan Tucker), who has been listed as AWOL following his deployment from Iraq.
As the search for his son becomes more rigorous and less hopeful, Hank finds himself clashing with two forms of the law: the clueless local police and the headstrong military brass. With the help of a determined detective, Emily Sanders (played painstakingly by Charlize Theron), Hank delves into an investigation that he may not want to solve, asking questions he may not want answered, discovering that learning the truth is sometimes easier than facing it.
In The Valley of Elah also boasts noteworthy performances by Susan Sarandon, James Franco, Jason Patric, Josh Brolin, Wes Chatham and Jake McLaughlin; all of whom bring life and dimension to generally listless characters. The entire cast of “Valley” performs as if they all have secrets, refusing to give other characters the satisfaction of knowing what’s on their mind.
Winner of this year’s Spirit of Freedom: Dramatic Award at the 4th Annual Bahamas International Film Festival, In The Valley of Elah is easily one of the top films of 2007 and is sure to garner even more gold come Oscar time.
It’s a shame that the screening for this film was so poorly attended at the festival; up-and-coming filmmakers could have learned a thing or two from Haggis and his brilliance.
Maybe next time I won’t be the only person taking notes.
Written & Directed by Terrence Malick
Cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki
Starring Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, Jessica Chastain, Hunter McCracken
Film Editing by Hank Corwin, Jay Rabinowitz, Daniel Rezende, Billy Weber & Mark Yoshikawa
Jeez, where to begin? There are so many incredible things to be said about The Tree of Life – it’s truly a beautiful and triumphant achievement in cinematic poetry. So, undoubtedly, many moviegoers will walk away from this film scratching their heads. If you’re unfamiliar with director Terrence Malick’s style then don’t bother.
It’s not for you.
If you like movies where characters say things like, “Semper Fi, motherfucker!” or “My stepfather tried to rape me, and he’s a werewolf,” then don’t even see The Tree of Life.
Not to repeat myself, but… it’s just not for you. It’s the kind of movie that close-minded moviegoers might consider a “risk” since, like, there are hardly any explosions and you don’t need 3D glasses to indulge in the magic.
Maybe you’ll like it, maybe I’m wrong.
We’ll never know unless you’re willing to give it a chance.
Basically, The Tree of Life is a nostalgic portrait of a small-town American upbringing in Waco, Texas during the 1950s. The story flows and unfolds in sequences, non-linear vignettes, intertwining stories from the past and future that mesh seamlessly. The film also depicts a much larger picture, a story told on a broader scale – the creation of life – displayed brilliantly in a way reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.
In fact, famed special effects supervisor Douglas Trumbull – who worked on Kubrick’s 1967 deep-space classic – was in charge of the visual effects for The Tree of Life. So, instead of relying on computer-generated imagery, Trumbull and visual effects supervisor Dan Glass opted to go the old-fashioned route to recreate the segments that depict the earth’s formation. In an industry overran by green-screens and CGI, it’s refreshing to see somebody willing to get their hands dirty.
“We worked with chemicals, paint, fluorescent dyes, smoke, liquids, CO2, flares, spin dishes, fluid dynamics, lighting and high speed photography to see how effective they might be,” Trumbull told Cinematography.com. “We did things like pour milk through a funnel into a narrow trough and shoot it with a high-speed camera and folded lens, lighting it carefully and using a frame rate that would give the right kind of flow characteristics to look cosmic, galactic, huge and epic.”
To me, the cinematography is the most rewarding aspect of The Tree of Life. I like to regard Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki as one of the top cinematographers in the game today, capturing breath-taking images that evoke emotions you haven’t felt since you last felt them. If they say a picture is worth a thousand words, well, what happens when you’re shooting at 24 frames per second?
“Photography is not used to illustrate dialogue or a performance,” Lubezki told the Los Angeles Times. “We’re using it to capture emotion so that the movie is very experiential. It’s meant to trigger tons of memories, like a scent or a perfume.”
(For more on Chivo, check out this great LA Times profile on his work and his collaboration with Malick.)
One of Malick’s greatest contributions to the film is the performances he seems to solicit from the young actors, who reportedly weren’t even given a script before takes; they were simply told what to do before the camera started rolling. Malick understands how to communicate his vision, his story, through the work of the cast and their conflicting interactions, which is a tribute to his prowess as a director. The actors’ body language does most of the work, while Malick commands from behind the camera like an orchestra’s conductor, creating an atmosphere that feels both familiar and intrusive.
The cast is superb. Jessica Chastain gives a remarkable performance as Mrs. O’Brien, the graceful, soft-spoken matriarch of the movie. Sean Penn is both enigmatic and vulnerable as the lead character, an architect, reflecting on his childhood after the death of his younger brother. Brad Pitt gives one of the most button-down performances of his career as the sternly pragmatic Mr. O’Brien. Hunter McCracken is the real star of the film, our reluctant hero, the child version of Penn’s character. A majority of McCracken’s lines are delivered in the form of a gentle voice-over or pre-lapped dialogue. He spends much of his screen time flashing facial expressions that can’t easily be translated. On a side note, Laramie Eppler, who plays the O’Brien’s middle son, really looks like he could be related to Brad Pitt. That’s insanely accurate casting.
The soundtrack is haunting but peaceful, an equal blend of youthful optimism and straight-up fear. Each segment of the film has its own unique brand of music that compliment the images. The original score, composed by Alexandre Desplat, is spliced with renowned classical piano pieces that are guaranteed to give you goosebumps. Here’s a great blog post from IndieWire detailing all 37 songs that appear in the film.
Mostly meditative choral pieces, requiems, slowly growing classical or opera pieces and occasionally something more trance-inducing and ambient, the music isn’t something you’re likely going to rock on your iPod (ok, maybe some tracks before bed), but if you want a quick peek window into the mood, tone and timbre of Malick’s latest picture, the music… will definitely guide you there.
One, two… Five editors? Ya goddamn right. I mean, given the nature of the film (and the nearly three hour running time), each editor brings a unique perspective to the final cut, making each sequence seem fresh and interesting. Among the editors, Daniel Rezende and Billy Weber are names that stand out to me. Rezende is known for his work on the films of Fernando Meirelles like City of God and Blindness. Weber collaborated with Malick on his previous film The Thin Red Line.
One Last Thing…
If you were expecting a traditional movie review that sums up the film in a few paragraphs, well… tough shit, because it’s hard to review an experience without being sentimental. And that’s exactly what The Tree of Life is.
It’s an experience.
Or maybe you will.
You won’t know unless you give it a chance.
Written by Bima Stagg
Directed by Bronwen Hughes
Cinematography by Jess Hall
Starring Thomas Jane, Dexter Fletcher, Deborah Kara Unger
Stander is not only a visual masterpiece, but an emotional journey to the heart of a good cop, who turns into a great thief.
Thomas Jane gives an intriguing and heartbreaking performance as Andre Stander, a straight-laced cop who has a terrific way of expressing himself through shark grins and seductive smiles. Although I thought Jane was impressive as “Todd… Parker!” in Boogie Nights, he brings a uniquely mesmerizing confidence to his role as Stander.
Inspired by a true story and set in Johannesburg, South Africa, during the late 70s and early 80s, Stander is a film about finding yourself, despite the barriers of age, social class and the law. It’s a film about trust, loyalty and the irony in doing what’s right by doing what’s wrong.
But, most importantly, it’s a film about having fun.
At any costs.
Andre Stander is a young white police captain in South Africa, actually the youngest captain in the Johannesburg Police Force. He is happily married to his lovely wife Bekkie and the two seem to fit right into the middle-class society they have grown accustomed to.
While on Riot Patrol, Stander’s life changes drastically with the pull of a shotgun trigger. Due to the growing racial problem sparked by apartheid, Stander becomes so greatly affected by the killings of blacks during a rally (in which he both watched and participated in), he finds himself on the polar opposite of the law, robbing his first bank while wearing large Aviators and hiding his small pistol behind his fashionable (but somewhat tacky) plaid suit coat.
Although he gives the stack of stolen cash to a young black child selling newspapers on the street, Stander has become completely transformed, robbing a flurry of banks in the morning then heading the team of investigators sent to crack the case in the afternoon. Not only does this represent the continuous irony apparent throughout the whole movie, it’s hilarious to see one of the bank clerks claim that Stander, the police officer, looks like Stander, the bank robber.
After an innocent grin, Stander turns to the police chief and offers to be taken in. And everyone starts laughing.
Stander eventually does get caught, arrested by his colleagues and is sentenced to 32 years in prison. His wife wants a divorce. His father won’t talk to him.
When Andre Stander’s story looks completed, his life is merely beginning.
While in prison, Stander befriends two convicts Allan Heyl (David O’Hara) and Lee McCall (Dexter Fletcher). Stander and McCall make a daring escape, involving a fake injury after a prison rugby game, then come back to the prison and bail Heyl out. Together the three form “The Stander Gang” (a name that brought light criticism from both McCall and Heyl) and proceed to rob dozens of banks across South Africa.
One of my favorite scenes is after The Stander Gang has robbed a bank, they hear on the radio that the bank’s manager is boasting that the gang didn’t hit a safe loaded with cash. So, Stander and his crew make a quick U-turn, return to the bank and calmly rob the safe.
Never have I been so sentimental for criminals but, as the movie progresses, this gang acts less and less like “real” criminals. While reassuring his gang to keep their robbery streak intact, Stander reminds his partners that “this is supposed to be fun.” And it sure looks like fun as the boys are the lead story every night on the evening news and the headlines in every paper. The Stander Gang becomes so notorious that an Andre Stander look alike, named Mark Jennings, repeatedly gets arrested merely for resembling the famous bank robber.
At a majority of the banks they rob, The Stander Gang admires their wanted posters, three ratty mug shots taped to every bank door in South Africa. In addition to their swift skills used to rob the banks, the gang wears different costumes, most of which are too good to be true. Stander wears a dark afro wig with large sunglasses for one heist. He dresses up like a Muslim for another. Stander and his crew makes bank robberies look easy and effortless, the same way great athletes make slam dunks and home runs seem almost second nature.
To me, Stander was the best film of the Second Annual Bahamas International Film Festival. Although the theatre I saw it in way barely a quarter full, Stander went on to win the Audience Award at the festival. The film offers plenty of plot twists and an unbelievable supporting cast that backs up Thomas Jane beautifully. David O’Hara and Dexter Fletcher are the perfect partners for a fun-loving thief like Stander. Deborah Kara Unger gives a heartbreaking performance as Stander’s beautiful wife Bekkie, who seems as confused with her life as Stander is with his.
Overall, this film has hints of Fernando Meirelle’s City of God with characters reminiscent of the thieves in Reservoir Dogs. Although this film bombed at the box office, I feel with the right exposure, Stander has the potential to build up an underground fan base of loyal viewers like myself. Stander is a must-see film that shows a soon-to-be great Thomas Jane at his criminally-minded best.
Written & Directed by Richard Shepard
Cinematography by David Tattersall
Starring Pierce Brosnan, Greg Kinnear, Hope Davis
The Matador, the latest film from writer/director Richard Shepard, may be the most intriguing comedy of the holiday season. With a limited but incredibly competent cast, The Matador draws you in with both humorous stints of dialogue and a side of Pierce Brosnan you’ve never seen before.
The Matador, which was the closing film at the Second Annual Bahamas International Film Festival, follows Julian Noble (Pierce Brosnan), a 22-year veteran hitman with more than a few screws loose. He paints his toenails. He strolls through a hotel lobby, dressed in only a black Speedo and zip-up leather boots while holding a beer. He’s an alcoholic with a taste for bad jokes and young girls. Brosnan brings a surprisingly believable quirkiness to his character, the polar opposite to the James Bond role he’s famous for playing.
Julian meets Danny Wright (Greg Kinnear) in a bar while both are visiting Mexico City on business. Julian is getting drunk after a successful hit and secretly celebrating his birthday. Danny, an honest traveling salesmen, is tossing back margaritas after a successful meeting with, what he believes to be, clients. Both are somewhat unsatisfied with their lives. Both are looking for a new direction. And both have no idea that the only thing missing in their life was each other’s companionship.
While watching a matador in Mexico City, Julian confesses his profession with ease and sincerity, a small hint of pride heard in his voice. “Some people need to be eliminated,” Julian almost shrugs, cigar in hand, his mind somewhere else. This sparks Danny’s interest, which soon enough turns into disinterest that leads to a six month hiatus between the two.
While on a job in Budapest, Julian finds himself unable to “eliminate” the target. He becomes an aging train wreck, his gray hair mangled, his attractive face sagging. Soon enough, Julian becomes the target and can turn to the only person left in his corner, the gentle Danny Wright with a knack to do what’s right, but a nagging sensation to help a friend.
The casting in The Matador is perfect, with each character giving a flawless performance as everyday people with a lot more than what meets the eye. Hope Davis (from American Splendor fame) gives a lovable performance as Kinnear’s affectionate and supporting wife, Bean, the only thing that seems to keep him moving. Three years prior, the Wright’s lost their son in a school bus accident. Soon after, Danny was laid off, forcing him to become a traveling salesman, a job he seems perfect for but unsatisfied with.
The Matador delivers on every aspect of filmmaking. The structure and writing of the film is as incredible as the performances given by the actors. The direction is sharp, the transitions are crisp and the title cards that bare the names of the cities in which Julian travels for “jobs” are in large font and take up the screen, which present a unique look for the usually simplistic titles.
The Matador flashes both signs of humor and sadness. The theatre exploded with laughter after priceless one-liners delivered by Brosnan while you could hear the echo of crunching popcorn as Kinnear explains how he lost his son. Overall, The Matador makes for exciting entertainment and proves to be one of the funniest (and no doubt quirkiest) performances of Brosnan’s career.
And to think, all he had to do was trade in a tux for a shade of dark metallic toenail polish.