Saturday, September 28, 2013

Don Jon - Review

Don Jon – Review

Starring Joseph Gordon Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore and Tony Danza, the first thing you discover about Don Jon is that first time director, writer  and actor of this film Levitt hits you right between the eyes from the onset with the film’s thematic subject; addicted to sex or addicted to porn.

Levitt plays Don and he moves his central character through the film very adroitly, navigating fresh new conversational terrain here on the already much fully explored sex subject between adults. With the right mix of smart comedy, contemporary dialog and credible interplay between characters, Don Jon surprised me quite a bit, and even more so through its evolutionary plot turn in the second half that frankly was mature, sincere and dramatically honesty.

Overall, the plot of the film delves into Don’s daily life and by his own words an insatiable desire for sex, which he quietly keeps to himself as the more preferable method of self pleasuring from watching porn on his laptop. Don of course still takes all of the typical steps of going to clubs to meet women with his good looks and witty pick up lines; so conquering beautiful women at his leisure is not a problem. It’s once he has secured ‘their love” as in the case of the Johansson’s more demanding character named Barbara he still seems to prefer pleasuring himself through what he feels is the more honest and satisfying sex by viewing porn.

The film moves at a good solid pace for 93 minutes delving into issues of pressures by family members to settle down, running buddies who don’t want him to, a series of creative playful scenes of being absolved from his sins through the Catholic faith, an ironic twist on male neatness and fastidiousness and of course the importance some men place on having porn in their life. Frankly, Levitt could have stretched this film’s plot out a bit further possibly making his comedy drama mix into something uniquely special about men’s perspective on sex. But in the end, Levitt’s clever screenplay is about how some people reach their sexual maturity through influences big and small, with familiar friends and circles or sometimes simply random and coincidental.

Don Jon is not without its faults as there are a few flat characters included in the film that seem to offer noting to the story. I also was confused a few times as to what was the intention of a few scenes were, as the dialog flow moved from something being very funny and then suddenly turning into a perplexing dramatic moment leaving me to wonder should I be laughing or not.

In the end for his first time directing effort Actor Joseph Gordon Levitt manages to show real promise in his ability to write and direct smart quality films in the future.

3 -1/4 Stars

Friday, September 27, 2013

Rush - Review

Rush – Review

Rush is the true story of  the highly competitive relationship of drivers James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl ) in the dangerous profession of formula one racing during the 1970s.

Directed by Academy Award winning Director Ron Howard the strength of this film lies in the telling of these two unrelenting strong will personalities insatiable need to beat each other at almost all cost and yet be guided by polar opposite principles in doing it.

Hunt was a British flamboyant, womanizing chain smoking, alcohol consuming risk taker both on and off the track, guided by the single idea of doing whatever it takes to win. The Austrian Lauda on the other hand approached racing from the perspective of maintaining both an on and off the track acute discipline to all aspects of his life, with a constant need to look for new analytical and innovative engineering strategies for his cars, with ultimately his singular belief that preparation and thinking would always make him the superior driver.

What makes Rush a very entertaining film is Director Howard’s attention to the details of racing. The racing visuals of this film are riveting to watch as in it felt that Howard not only gets you up and extremely close to the effects of weather, fuel, smoke and grease has on fast open wheel driving, he also allows you to feel the sensation of breakneck speed with some of the best close up work I have seen in sometime.

Ultimately, Howard wants to tell about how two clearly different people can be both fierce rivals with nothing in common and yet have a symbiotic dependency with each other in order to elicit and even provoke their best effort through victory and defeat - personal hardship and near death tragedy.

Money did drive not these two, instead raw competition was the fuel to their high octane passion and just like other famous sports combatants i.e. Ali and Frasier, you learn here as well that you don’t really need to like the other to bring out the best in yourself and have each other’s mutual respect.

Special kudos to Daniel Bruhl as his performance was Oscar nomination worthy as the somewhat mechanical and socially stoic Lauda, with addition praise to Chris Hemsworth for giving his character Hunt a lot of on screen charisma and presence.

You really should see Rush on the big screen as the racing scenes, which they are many of, are truly great to watch.

3 -1/4 Stars

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Prisoners - Review

Prisoners – Review

From the Prisoners beginning I was amused that once again I would have to sit through a short period of directorial management of my thinking about the plot. What do I mean? You know a short series of stylized esthetic background hints typical of these types of crime films where they inject subtle images, sounds and meticulously emotional clues to warn us that there will be some dread and doom awaiting us very soon.

From the onset we see this cinematic management of our thoughts manifested by the father Keller (Hugh Jackman) with his early appearance and verbal offerings of some self developed somber philosophy of how a man’s virtue as a good provider for his family is connected to the very moment his son has killed a deer for their Thanksgiving dinner. Is this a clue?

The winter’s weather’s air seemly so thick the film appears to be in a perpetual state of gloom, gray and dreariness. The ground people walk on so abundantly extra murky, damp and eerily muddy. The peculiar sounds of the out of season rumblings of an approaching thunder storm in late November. The sudden appearance of a driverless van moving mysteriously slow with its decrepit aged exterior. The pursuit of a legitimate suspect at the darkness time of night in a drenching rain storm with guns and flash lights abound. The appearance of the suspect lacking both in handsomeness and mental acuity, all the while deliberately attired in unkempt clothing, disheveled oily hair and a pair of ugly oversized crooked eyeglasses.  Is this another clue? Oh yeah we got our man, he’s got to be guilty, after all he just looks like a creepy criminal right?

Yes many cues, hints and clues, with many embedded suggestive visuals to set the audience’s mood would have you to believe this film wasn’t very good, but the fact is with all of this prerequisite manipulation Prisoners manages to settle down for a 2 and 1/2 hours of highly effective story telling on a very human emotional level the raw aspects of what is certainly every real life parent’s worse nightmare come true; that being the abduction and disappearance of their child.

Prisoners is about vigilantly frontier justice and it ultimately works inspite of it’s slightly overly elongated development of vigilantisms gone way too far. What keeps it from being a bit farcical or ridiculous is the director’s equal commitment to telling the police procedural aspects to this case portrayed very well by Jake Gyllenhaal character’s perspective as the lead investigative officer named Detective Loki. His story as he pursues the evidence trail seemed to be consistently honest, more calculatingly smart and the more grounded in reality through out. The Hugh Jackman’s character who plays the distraught father named Keller, who’s rage seemed initially legitimate and his angered genuinely honest, while initially effective seemed later in the film to run well beyond him having any credibility regarding his actions and his reasoning for doing them. As time went by he felt less and less of a sympathetic victim and more and more as someone spiraling into recklessness without any regard for the long term consequences. And while he grew to be a bit annoying to me, I still asked myself later was this part of his characters development intentional to antagonize me? Maybe, but in my estimation it went on a little too long.   

Still, I found Prisoners to be well acted across the board especially by Paul Dano as the suspect named Alex. It’s not easy to create fresh strangeness in a potential villain these days but Dano is quite effective at being someone that we both despise and feel sympathy for.

On a side note, for some reason I could not stop thinking that when Dano’s character spoke he was doing a spot on imitation of Michael Jackson. Was this just coincidence given the subject matter? I am not sure. Still, Prisoners is a very well made film that I found emotionally intriguing bathed in that right balance of stress and tension, with an authentic sense of “who done it” in its execution.

3 –1/2 Stars

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Short Term 12 - Review

Short Term 12 – Review

Short Term 12" is a film told through the eyes of a character named Grace (Brie Larson), a twenty-something compassionate, passionate but tough supervisor at a facility for at-risk teenagers. Grace is a take charge caretaker of the kids at the facility and is also in love with her long-term kindhearted boyfriend who is also a co-worker named Mason (John Gallagher Jr.).

What we realize early in the film is that it is no coincidence that Grace has chosen to work with these fragile and torment kids, as we find that she is dealing silently with some difficult issues from her own past that are way too emotionally raw for her to talk about with others.

Midway through the film Grace’s is confronted by surprising events that reminds her of the past causing her to spiral into deep confusion and detachment from professional life, her relationship with Mason and the teens she is charged to care for. Things get even more difficult and are made all the more sharper for Grace with the arrival of a young girl named Jayden at the facility who is highly gifted but is very troubled with her risky behavior, insubordination and unruly demeanor. But unlike the other teens there Grace eventually discovers that she and Jayden are making a connection that seems to help them both in a mutually beneficial way to open up about there past.

Short Term 12 is a small but very complex film that has upfront honesty in its story telling. Dealing with teens in the plot with fragile and respectful care who wake up each day with the emotional pain from their past as a daily part of their present. This fabulous little film manages with great gentleness and realism to convey the stories of these teen with moment to moment truth, with a bit of appropriate humor and with lots of love, sometimes unrequited love, sometimes love in the most unexpected of places from the most unexpected people.

3 – 3/4 Stars

Thursday, September 5, 2013

In A World - Review

In A World – Review

Starring Lake Bell, “In A World” is a witty comedy where we find 30 year old Carol Solomon (Bell) who is a struggling vocal coach in the suburbs of Los Angeles still living with her single father named Sam Sotto. Sam. is the current reigning king of movie trailer voice-over artists, who is somewhat arrogant, definitely prideful and full of hubris at his self perceived prominence in this little known slice of life aspect of the film industry.

Sam feels his daughter is not making enough progress in her life, so he encourages her to have the courage to pursue her secret aspiration of being a voice-over star like her father. But Sam motives are not genuine as his real motive is simply designed to getting his daughter out of his house before his new girl friend moves in.

Somewhat naively armed with renewed confidence Carol moves out of her fathers home and moves into her fiery sister Dani home who becomes her trusted confidante as Carol earnestly begins to engage the necessary skills of trying to charm the right industry people with the hopes of nabbing a good job. But with all the renewed confidence in the world Carol soon discovers she is moving down an entangled journey of an industry full of professional dysfunction, blatant sexism, unmitigated egos, and boisterous pride.

In A World is one of those rare small independent type films whose strength is immediately obvious from its very cleaver, smart, snappy and creative screenplay which was by the way written and directed by the actress herself Lake Bell. The film’s other strength is the appropriate casting of supporting actors who give this movie its human warmth and comedic charm.

Lake Bell has real directing and writing talent on display here that seem uniquely and especially suited in taking small subject matters and giving them some real complex weight. She also has the rare gift of writing a story that stays focused on the film’s plot that also manages to provide real depth and development to subplots that keep a real connection to its main theme.

At its core this film is a screwball comedy and a smart creative effort. We also discover that Lake Bell can not only have real appeal in front of the camera as an actress, she has the same appeal behind it, with a surprising talent of putting her quirky thoughts to paper.

3 – 3/4 Stars