As Sam Manning (Billy Crudup, Watchmen, Big Fish), having just landed the big deal, walks into a sports bar eager to celebrate with his son Josh a news story catches his attention. A shooting had taken place at his son’s college. The heart swells into his throat as he can only idly watch his worst fears come true.
Two years have passed since his son’s death and Sam’s life has spiraled. No longer living the ritzy life of an advertising executive, he now makes a living painting houses. One day, his now ex-wife brings him a box of Josh’s old stuff, among which are a number of CD’s containing the music his son made before his death, Sam starts playing the songs himself as a way to reconnect with his son.
“Rudderless,” the name of the band that Sam eventually joins, certainly has a haunting quality that keeps audiences invested. The emotional magnitude of the film is well buoyed by the folksy soundtrack as well as the overall wistful tone. As a tragically topical and relatable issue, it is certainly a film that will hit everyone’s sentimental core.
The film is also the directorial debut of William H. Macy (Shameless, The Sessions) who also has a small part as the bar owner where Sam plays. There are definitely praise-worthy attributes to Macy’s effort, such as a clever use of the soundtrack to makes for seamless pacing. However, for the most part, there was nothing from a directorial standpoint that stood out. That is not to say “Rudderless” was directed poorly, just rather safely.
As much as this movie stuck with me on an emotional level, I really wished that the film would have dug a little deeper into the complexity of grief. Instead of providing a thorough exploration how both individuals and communities negotiate with trauma, “Rudderless”only wades into issue. For a film concerned with meditating on the trials of loss and catharsis, it never really does enough to provide truly novel insight into an issue that is plaguing our society.
I’ll call this a bit of a warm up for Macy’s directing career. He certainly didn’t bite off more than he could chew with this project, but didn’t do more than was asked of him. Macy got his sea legs for the directors chair and hopefully he’ll be more courageous with his choices for his next film. It would be a shame to see him move forward completely rudderless.
As Eleanor Rigby (Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty,Lawless) walks across the bridge there’s clearly something amiss. We don’t know what, but as she casually leaves her bike and continues her pace out of frame it’s the startled yell of a passerby and a faint splash that tells us where she ends up. We still don’t know why, even as her husband Conor (James McAvoy, Trance, X-Men: Days of Future Past) rushes into her hospital room, only to find her asleep.
It’s the audience’s beginning tug on the sweater of Eleanor and Connor’s marriage, chronicled in the “Them” chapter of “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby.” Originally slated as two movies, (called “Him” and “Her”) they’ve since been recut into one.* It’s a slow-boil that recounts the couple’s story, especially as they study the shards of their relationship without an obvious focus. Eleanor returns to school, moves in with family, and refuses to even discuss Conor. In turn, Conor picks fights as he obsesses over his failed marriage and his failing restaurant business as he moves home to his own father’s house.
There’s an elegance to the way first-time director/writer Ned Benson frames the story. Though it may be quiet and unhurried — often taking its time to show off its cinematography skills as it circles backward and forward through time — it speaks volumes about processing grief, love, and how different expressions of those. The whole thing gives a sense of intricate plotting, but still carries the heavy burden of authenticity behind its emotion.
The film owes a lot to its lead actors, who carry their characters with a kind of unassuming heartbreak. They’re equally developed, whole characters with flaws and negativities that simultaneously balance each other out while also feeding on the other’s self-destruction.
As companion pieces Benson could’ve made a theatrical statement; the man vs. the woman, Kramer vs. Kramer, the variability of “Clue” meets the emotional nuance of “Boyhood.” But as a fusion, the result is a beautiful contrast between two volatile adults.
Though their problems may, at first, reek of advantage, of well-off, white, New Yorkers who can afford to take a step back from their lives, there’s a reserved sorrow that’s subtly woven throughout the film that everyone can relate to. The ethereal air of going through the motions after trauma and searching for something next to normal creates a reverent tone from start to finish, until finally the screen fades to black, and you’re stuck waiting for him and her.
*There’s talk of these being released to art house theaters soon/already, if you’re in New York. But there’s no word of it in Seattle yet. Once it does, expect a Deja Review from us, because when I found out this wasn’t based on a book I felt robbed of experiencing this story more.
It’s almost as if Dennis Lehane novels are becoming more famous for their film adaptations rather than the books themselves. Not that I think he’s complaining; his books have become modern film classics such “Gone Baby Gone,” “Mystic River,” and “Shutter Island.” His provocative and complex narrative style makes for great screenplay material and now his latest adaptation, “The Drop,” is more than ready to join the ranks.
The drop is a term that refers to a business that the mob will use as a bank to launder all of their dirty cash. The location of the titular drop is a bar run by Bob Saginowski (Tom Hardy, Locke, The Dark Knight Rises) and Cousin Marv portrayed by the late James Gandolfini (The Sopranos, Killing Them Softly). Marv had once owned the bar, but when it was taken over by the Chechen mafia he has been charged with the task of laundering the mob’s money. Everything is business as usual until a pair of robbers steal the mob’s money from the bar, pulling both Marv and Bob deeper into the seedy criminal world.
Much like his other adaptations, “The Drop” is predicated on a tightly coiled narrative over any sort of flash. With a relatively small budget, there aren’t any set pieces in the film, but engrossing regardless largely thanks to a methodically layered narrative. The movie is certainly a slow burn, but there is never a dull moment as each scene slowly pieces together a much greater whole.
The most compelling part of the film lies in the interesting characterization of each person that passes through bar. There is nothing much that sets some of these characters apart from your traditional stock characters, but each character appears to be withholding information. It’s this subtle secrecy that hangs over each seen that piques are intrigue and makes for a well composed thriller.
This sentiment is well portrayed in the three headliners Hardy, Gandolfini, and very underused Noomi Rapace (Prometheus, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo), but there definitely has to be some credit doled out to the supporting performances of Matthias Schoenaerts (Bullhead, Rust and Bone) as the unstable Eric Leeds and John Ortiz (Silver Linings Playbook, Fast and Furious 6) as the tough as nails Detective Torres. Although the three leads definitely provide the framework for the film, it’s the performances by Schoenaers and Ortiz that provide the little details that really makes this thriller tick. Fresh off his Oscar Nomination for his 2011 “Bullhead,” Belgian director Michaël R. Roskam has definitely demonstrated he is not a one-hit wonder and has legitimate staying power. His gritty aesthetic and intricately planned narratives make him an exciting up-and-comer and leaves me eager for his works to come.
Certainly, the fall thriller market will be dominated by “Gone Girl,” but it is certainly not the only thriller to see out there. “The Drop”has a mysterious and mesmerizing quality that has a simply irresistible pull. You’re just going to have to drop in to see for yourself.
It seems like covering up Michael Fassbender’s face for an entire movie is killing the golden goose. Aside from his devilish good looks, Fassbender’s control and precision in facial expression has made him one of the most premier and versatile actors in our generation. So while a bold choice to hide Fassbender in mask, it does little hide this quirky gem of a film.
Inspired by the comic persona Frank Sidebottom, the film documents the fictional band Soronprfbs, featuring a gaggle of off-beat characters including the deliciously abrasive Clara (Maggie Gyllenhall, White House Down, Crazy Heart) and of course the titular, charismatic, and paper-mache-head doning Frank (Michael Fassbender, X-Men Franchise,12-Years A Slave). A musician wannabe Jon (Domhnall Gleeson, Harry Potter Franchise, Anna Karenina), becomes enthralled by the peculiar yet brilliant methods of Frank and Soronprfbs and joins the band.
“Frank,” much like it’s titular character, is quite the oddball and sure to draw a polarizing reception. A general audience can find comfort in the film aligning itself pretty recognizably within the “I’m in the Band” genre. It’s that familiarity that is sure to tether its audience to the film as it take strange and bizarre turns along the way. But the true rewards of the film lies in it’s biting script doused in black comedy. For those who have that acquired taste will be charmed and be able to feel the heartbeat that lies underneath a rather peculiar exterior.
We look at the Soronprfbs as outsiders looking in and as the film hums along we become attached to this group of outcasts. Director Lenny Abrahamson (What Richard Did, Garage) is able to deconstruct the caricatures that we initially see in these characters and reveal painfully vulnerable elements. Maggie Gyllenhall and Michael Fassbender perfectly encapsulate this sentiment in their performances with Gyllenhall playing a prickly cynic masking a romantic and Fassbender playing genius masking a humble artist.
The biggest flaw of the film would have to be it’s focus on Jon rather than the rest of the band. While Soronprfbs represents everything we love about musical expression, Jon is the complete opposite. His petty and selfish attempts at stardom make him unsympathetic at best and leave us with less emotional heft from the film than we would have hoped for.
It’s a celebration of weirdness and a fresh change of pace that’ll keep your cinematic noggin sharp. “Frank” is a challenging film, but still maintains it’s charm for those who will appreciate it. I know I’ll be itching for another viewing down the line as I relish the the chance to laugh and grapple with it once more. It’s certainly not going to please everyone, but that’s just something you’re going to face for yourself.
It’s weird to think about Jimi Hendrix (Outkast’s Andre 3000) being just another guy trying to pay the bills, but before he was discovered by Linda Keith (Imogen Poots, Need for Speed) that’s all he was. “All is by My Side” chronicles the year before Hendrix set fire to the stage in Monterey (literally).
Back then he was just a struggling musician who got noticed by the right person. The Hendrix estate was not consulted at all for the making of the film. Consequently, the movie paints a somewhat uneven and unusual picture of the guitar god. At times the flick feels more like a mood piece than a coherent film based on someone’s life. It borders on tedious; sometimes seeming like just a series of conversations that are flashes into the life of a music icon.
But there’s something intriguing about the experience of a biopic that strays from the obligatory mythologizing and dips into candid snapshots — for better or for worse. Here we see Jimi Hendrix, the man, through a sort of unwieldy temperament that would do its protagonist proud.
Ultimately it’s too long and unfocused to handle its lofty goals. Writer/director John Ridley (who also penned the script for 12 Years a Slave) made the decision to live by Hendrix’s “come what may” lifestyle. Andre 3000 nails the rambling style of Hendrix’s cadence, but there’s not enough agency there for the audience to stay invested in. Part of what made Hendrix a household name was the spontaneity and creativity. Those feelings are all there — and would make for a nice subversion of the stale biopic formula — but without Jimi’s full energy this film won’t be remembered like its leading man.
Show me a movie based on a young adult novel that captures the voice in a simple, mature way, and I’ll show you a surprised critic. Probably a panel of them. But that doesn’t always mean it’s a bad film, which is something worth remembering that, going into a film like “The Giver.”
Based off the famous 1993 novel by Lois Lowry, it follows Jonas (Brenton Thwaites, Maleficent, Oculus) through the utopian future he lives in. There’s no war, there’s no strife, there’s no pain. In its place is sameness, and a society run by elders (headed by Meryl Streep, The Devil Wears Prada, Doubt) that — nicely — governs the lives of its citizens so thoroughly it observes them and then assigns them a job when they come of age.
And so Jonas passively accepts his new role to take over for the current Receiver of Memories (Jeff Bridges, The Big Lebowski, True Grit), a rare position that he’s warned will cause pain and isolate him from the rest of society.
Next to a veteran like Bridges — an actor whose permanent disposition is followed by his own drummer — Thwaites’ Jonas seems even more like a sheep getting the wool out of its eyes. As he’s exposed to his first taste of difference, color, and life beyond the society, there’s more and more of Bridges’ natural-Dude persona oozes out of him. His mannerisms are caught somewhere between the actor’s showmanship and the movie’s (intentional, I’m guessing) forced acting. Bridges walks the line the best, staying believable but not revolutionary to the societal norms, where others can’t quite break out of their two-dimensional boxes.
Like most teen films it won’t win any awards for acting. The script just isn’t there for the actors to grow from, but, importantly, the skeleton of the book is. Sure, there’s the compulsorily added romance and action sequence, and ultimately the insightful magic of the novel gets lost in translation. But that’s it. “The Giver” clearly has its heart in the right place (the novel) even if the messages can’t quite be broadcasted in the same way. Director Phillip Noyce has a solid grip on the simple, visual grace of the world; using color and flashbacks to effectively communicate to the audience whether they read the book or not. It’s a shame the Hollywood packaging can’t quite give it enough staying power the novel had.
I find it amusing that many movies that try to navigate the premise “can men and women be ‘just’ friends” as if it were incredibly novel. It’s a genre that you’ll find on an Olive Garden menu: incredibly generic and predictable. “What If?”(released as The F Word in Canada) may not be so bland as to be at Olive Garden, but it still doesn’t break any boundaries for the genre.
The romantic leads this time are Wallace (Daniel Radcliffe, Harry Potter, Kill Your Darlings) and Chantry (Zoe Kazan, Ruby Sparks, In Your Eyes). The two meet by chance at a party and hit it off immediately through their shared offbeat senses of humor but, despite their undeniable connection, things hit a snag when Chantry reveals that she has a boyfriend so their relationship must stay platonic. You can see where it goes from here.
There are no surprises or any sense of creativity in the writing of plot. As soon as one situation is presented, it is predictably laid out in front of you. You have some laughs here, some sexual tension there, and everything is wrapped up nicely with a bow to close it out. Although there are some profound nuggets here and there, it’s so overrun with cliches that the deeper points can easily go unnoticed.
The main draw of the film would be the charismatic performances of the players that breathe life into such a tired plot. Adam Driver (TV’s Girls, Frances Ha) is certainly going on the up and up with such a recent solid and busy filmography. His zany performance perfectly lands every punchline and plays scene stealer for the film.
However, the film’s soul lies with it’s leads of Radcliffe and Kazan. Radcliffe easily sheds any whiff of his wizarding days and can easily keep up with Kazan’s usual heartfelt performance. The two have a palpable chemistry that allow the film to carry enough emotional heft to keep us invested to their budding and trying relationship.
But ultimately the movie is less “What If” and more “When.” If you aren’t down to digest another “will they won’t they, but actually they will eventually” scenario, this is not the movie for you. But if the genre tickles your fancy, you surely won’t be disappointed and Radcliffe and Kazan will be sure to give you some feelz for the rest of your night.
Great horror movies have been built around the idea that the person you spend the rest of your life with is a monster. Rosemary’s husband worked with the devil, and Jack Manningham gave us the psychological term “gaslighting.” These stories prey on that insecurity that deep down the person sleeping next to you isn’t who they appear to be.
It’s the element that makes “Honeymoon” so successful. As Bea (Rose Leslie, TV’s Game of Thrones) and Paul (Harry Treadaway, currently on TV’s Penny Dreadful) travel to Bea’s remote family cabin for their honeymoon they seem to be basking in post-marital bliss. But after Paul finds Bea wandering and disoriented in the middle of the night, he begins to wonder if something more than sleepwalking happened in the woods.
“Honeymoon” is peculiar, in that it seems to do too much telling, yet also not enough. Lights pass over them as they sleep, power flickers in and out, a rustling in the woods. I wish that first-time director Leigh Janiak had held back a bit more of the clues along the way as to what happened on that fateful night. Its developments of “The Body Snatchers” formula keep it engaging and gripping throughout, but it would’ve better served the secondary job of the film: penetrating the metamorphosis that so many people fear in marriage. But it’s nothing that can’t be chalked up to inexperience, since the movie barely needs the later horror developments at all. Suspense permeates the narrative, and even at its slowest the plot builds somewhere you can’t quite expect.
While you’re not certain you know exactly what happened, there’s enough (too much) telling being done to give you a pretty good idea. That’s where Leslie and Treadaway come in. Their performances manage to communicate the challenging reality of their situation in what is basically a two-person show. Leslie in particular, who deals with both the more demanding physically challenging moments, skillfully portrays the subtle and overt changes in Bea.
Like most thrillers the ending of “Honeymoon” might not please anyone. As a fan of thrillers (we’re talking watching even the crappy ones on cable just to get a fix) I know I was prepared to be disappointed, and like I said there’s certainly room for Janiak to grow. It’s kept vague enough to linger in the minds of audiences but overall it feels a bit rushed. It doesn’t fully satisfy the premise, but it’s more than enough newlywed nightmare to last me until “Gone Girl.”
Is there anything more heartbreaking than a gorgeous film that can’t live up to its graphics? Probably. But as we watch Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Looper,Brick) drive down into Sin City, it’s hard not to let the excitement build up beyond what the movie ends up fulfilling.
His chapter is just one of many in Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller’s co-directed return to Sin City. “A Dame to Kill For” follows a pattern similar to the first one: three stories clenched together with dark scenes and stunning graphics in Basin City. Gordon-Levitt plays Johnny, the new kid on the block who’s set to take the spot of Sin City’s highest roller. Meanwhile Dwight (Josh Brolin, Guardians of the Galaxy, No Country for Old Men) chases after the dame broad that stole his heart, while elsewhere Nancy (Jessica Alba, Machete, Sin City) loses herself in life post John Hartigan (Bruce Willis, Moonrise Kingdom, Die Hard), who (nine-year-old spoilers) died protecting her in the first “Sin City.”
All three sagas are told in serial form, just like its prequel. Except where the former managed to glide — or at least distract — with its sleek graphics and creative storytelling, “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” misses its mark. The movie is sluggish, weighed down by the amount of attempted grit that peeks through with every move. Though it picks up a bit in the middle, the film feels more like a parody than an homage — except nobody told Rodriguez and Miller.
Maybe it’s too much to expect from a film (or maybe, more accurately, Miller) that’s constantly harkening back to the gritty days of noir to have better treatment of women. But the film is irresponsible at best. Gone are the highlighted femme fatales of old, back are the damsels. They may not always be in distress, but they always need a man — either to sexualize or complete them. The first one at least felt it needed to justify when someone (a woman) dies; “A Dame to Kill For” practically keeps a score card.
Sure, it was all probably there in “Sin City.” But with “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” the formula feels devoid of the energy that was there; stale in a way that feels more like trashy pulp than the slow-boiled noir of its predecessor.
Some say fans of the original “Sin City” flick won’t be disappointed, and certainly those hoping to return to the grungy city and its vivid visuals won’t be. But for anyone looking for the wit and artistry of the first “Sin City” keep looking. It may be “A Dame to Kill For,” but by the end it just feels like a two-hour exercise in male bravado.
I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about “Mood Indigo.” The surreal world created by Michel Gondry (Of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind fame) and Luc Bossi could, at worst, be described as messy and undercooked, and at best be described as a stylistic emotional roller coaster.
Its protagonist, Colin (Romain Duris, Populaire) is a well-off eccentric who doesn’t care for much. While he certainly cares about the people who help him, he doesn’t seem passionate about much; his life revolves around him. He shoves plates into the trash when he’s done, he invents a piano that makes cocktails when played, and (when his best friend Chick announces he’s in love) decides it’s time for him to be in love as well.
On paper (and a bit in the movie, to be honest) he sounds like a bit of a dick. The movie’s magical realism aspect just always seem to align to fulfill Colin’s every whim. Duris’ aberrant acting somewhat plays against him, but overall he manages to convey a sense of vulnerability in the role.
It’s played nicely off of Chloé (Audrey Tautou, Amélie), the sweet girl who’s taken by Colin’s awkward love for her. Thanks to all the wacky mis-en-scene their love is full of vibrant whimsy and quirk. And as their relationship grows and the movie turns dark, Gondry’s talent for combining oddity and emotion shines, creating an atmosphere of loss without ever invoking it too literally. As the sadness creeps into their lives the color glowers, the sun can’t get through the unstoppably dirty windows, and the walls inch closer and closer to the couple, the movie takes a dark turn and Gondry clearly paints a picture of illness without ever expressly saying it.
For all the visual appreciation I have for “Mood Indigo,” I wouldn’t say I found it to be Gondry’s most compelling work. The idiosyncrasy can often be — and I mean this in the kindest way — exhausting and borderline incomprehensible. It feels as if the film just keeps throwing gorgeous and clever ideas on the screen to the point where it’s a bit overwhelming and distracting. While it uses its fresh take to unravel familiar ideas; underneath all the layers of the sugar-coated layers of imagination. With the first ten minutes Gondry will blow your mind with his inventiveness, but the next 80 will weaves a bit of a knotted mood.