Saturday, June 29, 2013


There have been a number of films that many people I know online absolutely love. Some of them I saw and thought were a bit overhyped. (I won't mention which ones.) Others I completely understood all of the love for them.

The latter is most definitely the case with John Carney's Once. Ever since it first hit theatres back in 2007, people have been falling in love with it. (More so since it's recently been turned into a Broadway musical.) I wanted to see what enamored the viewers so much. I got my answer quite quickly.

It's not a flashy film in any regards. Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, the film's stars, weren't well known prior to Once. (Cillian Murphy was initially cast but dropped out.) To sum things up, Once proved you don't need big names to make a film like this.

And the music. Oh, the music is just magic. The songs are just beautiful. But special mention has to go to "Falling Slowly", which rightfully earned that Best Original Song Oscar. It's just absolutely lovely.

Once is one of those films that doesn't need a big, flashy cast to prove how great it is. (Same can be applied to a complex plot and sex scenes galore.) It's a simple film, yes, but it's a very lovely one. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to get tickets for that Broadway show...

My Rating: *****

Friday, June 28, 2013

Much Ado About Nothing

After making shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly and Dollhouse, and the one-two punch of The Cabin in the Woods and The Avengers last year, what does Joss Whedon do next? Why, a Shakespeare adaptation, of course.

His new film is Much Ado About Nothing and it's clear that this is a more personal project of Whedon's. Yes, it features his usual entourage of actors but when you learn that Whedon shot the film at his own house on a very small budget in less than two weeks, it comes as a bit of a shock when you remember the last thing he worked on was the (hugely) successful The Avengers.

Anyway, I haven't read Shakespeare's play but I could tell Whedon was being faithful aside from abridging it and a few tweaks here and there. (Knowing his work, I'm surprised Whedon didn't adapt a Shakespeare play with more...death.) It's the small things that Whedon throws into the film that makes Shakespeare's comedy even funnier. (Character interactions and settings mainly, but they're still hilarious.)

Back to the actors for a moment. Admittedly, I'm not well versed in the world of Whedon, but all of the actors were right for their roles. They hit their marks every time and they're just perfect. Not bad since I'm only familiar with four of them: Clark Gregg (The Avengers), Fran Kranz (The Cabin in the Woods), Nathan Fillion and Sean Maher (Firefly).

I pretty much loved Much Ado About Nothing. Everything about it just worked. I'm also fairly certain that thanks to this (and my recent watching of Firefly), I'm going to be seeing more of Whedon's work.

My Rating: *****

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Frances Ha

As some of you may know, life after college isn't particularly easy. Employment, rent, taxes, can be pretty daunting. (I don't know this from my own experiences but I sense my sister will be encountering such occurrences in the near future.)

Now many films on this very topic usually overplay the personal dramas one encounters. Just because your life isn't in order doesn't mean it absolutely terrible. Graciously, Noah Baumbach stays very much away from that cliche with his new film Frances Ha. Starring Greta Gerwig (who also co-wrote it), the films shows that even if life isn't great, there can be a few bright spots.

It's interesting. The last (and, I'll admit, only other) Baumbach film I saw was The Squid and the Whale where very few -- no, scratch that -- none of the main characters were likable. (And from what I heard, that's common amongst Baumbach's work.) The reverse is one of Frances Ha's best qualities. You like Frances from beginning to end.

And it's Gerwig's performance that is to thank. It's subtle yet expressive, quiet but observant. I can sense that Gerwig will be working for some time thanks in part to this film, but I also hope that this is a performance remembered by the awards circuit.

Frances Ha is a really charming film. It has what so many films are so clearly missing: a heart. (Ironic since, as pointed out above, Baumbach's films often feature heartless characters.) If it's playing at a theatre near you, go see it.

My Rating: *****

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Detective Story

Every now and again, those films from Hollywood's Golden Age that are usually forgotten tend to get their moment in the spotlight. (more than often thanks to a screening on TCM.) Sometimes they're not that great but often times you find a real gem.

Such in the case with William Wyler's Detective Story. It's easy to see how it got lost amid other releases. After all, it got released the same year as A Streetcar Named Desire, An American in Paris,  Strangers on a Train, The African Queen and A Place in the Sun. (Also released that year was Ace in the Hole, which also featured Kirk Douglas, the star of Detective Story.)

Anyway, the film revolves around a day in a police precinct where criminals get booked. Among the officers is Det. Jim McLeod (Douglas), who has an absolute hatred for crime. Then something from his wife's past is revealed and everything just spirals out of control.

Usually with crime-oriented films, you can be promised some solid work from its actors. In the case of Detective Story, it's from Douglas, Eleanor Parker (as McLeod's wife) and Lee Grant (as a shoplifter), the latter two earning Oscar nominations (though I feel for the wrong categories). Both Parker and Grant hold their own, but this show belongs to Douglas.

Detective Story in toll is a really good film. It's not as great as Douglas' other 1951 film Ace in the Hole, but it certainly has its moments. If you can get a hold of it, it's well worth your time.

My Rating: ****1/2

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Station Agent

Not long into Thomas McCarthy's The Station Agent does the story begin. Fin (Peter Dinklage) inherits a train depot from a friend of his. He tries to keep himself distant from those around him, but that doesn't stop Joe (Bobby Cannavale) and Olivia (Patricia Clarkson) from trying.

The Station Agent is certainly far from other films from the year. (I mean, it was released the same year as Mystic River and 21 Grams.) It's not an emotionally driven film but there are dramatic moments in it. It has its fair share of both comedy and drama though.

Usually many films tend to stray away from the emotional bonds that the characters make throughout the film. (Physical bonds, however...) The Station Agent is one such film that focuses on such bonds. (Granted, that's expected for an indie film, but still.)

Amongst the work from the three primary actors, they each provide substantial work. Dinklage shows both resistance and acceptance towards emotions. Cannavale provides most of the film's comic relief. Which brings me to Clarkson, the best thing about The Station Agent. She's worrisome without getting to Woody Allen levels and self-destructive without the melodrama. (There's also some good early work from Michelle Williams.)

Anyway, The Station Agent is an all right film. Nothing particularly special about it but it's still an amusing film. It also got me curious about McCarthy's other films.

My Rating: ****

Monday, June 24, 2013

Prick Up Your Ears

Stormy affairs are ones Hollywood usually tends to avoid. After all, Hollywood's more interested in the ones that end happily ever after, not those that end on a bitter note.

Stephen Frears' Prick Up Your Ears is one such film. Chronicling the relationship between playwright Joe Orton (Gary Oldman) and Kenneth Halliwell (Alfred Molina), the film shows that opposites in fact do not attract. Sometimes it can result in violence.

Now I'm not too familiar with Orton or his work (I only know of how he met his fate), but Oldman shows what kind of person Orton was. He was a bit of a flamboyant person, more so when he met Halliwell. And Oldman makes this role his own.

Likewise, Molina is absolutely transfixing as Halliwell. Here is a man perpetually consumed by jealously. He's jealous of Orton's career taking off while his own falters, the men stealing his lover from him and most importantly, his inability to keep his life in order while Orton's carefree with his own. It's a great piece of acting.

Prick Up Your Ears is a mostly solid film. (Mostly because it does taper off every now and again.) Like what he did with his previous film My Beautiful Laundrette, Frears shows that there's no stigma to a same-sex relationship. And thanks to the work from Oldman, Molina and Vanessa Redgrave, it's worthy of a look.

My Rating: ****

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The American President

Finding a solid romance film nowadays is sort of rare. Most films of the genre just rely on sex. No emotions, no passion, nothing. Just sex.

Thankfully, Rob Reiner's The American President doesn't rely on sex. The relationship between President Andrew Shepard (Michael Douglas) and Sydney Ellen Wade (Annette Bening) is handled very maturely. No crazy sex, no gushings of "I love you", just a simple relationship formed through communication.

It's amusing when you realize that Aaron Sorkin wrote The American President. I mean, most of the man's works have very tangled up relationships. (Try to find one of his shows that doesn't have one such affair.) Seeing a simple relationship from Sorkin's mind is refreshing to witness.

Also amusing is how many parallels there are between this and Sorkin's later work The West Wing. (The most telling one is both have Martin Sheen among their casts.) Many ideas originally written for this would instead go on the TV show. It's a small thing, yes, but it's something I admire.

The American President is a very lovely film. Some of Sorkin's writing traits rubbed me the wrong way in a few scenes, but the final result left me pleased. The scenes between Douglas and Bening show what most films of the genre miss completely: a mature depiction of a budding romance.

My Rating: ****1/2

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Citizen Ruth

It's made quite early on in Alexander Payne's Citizen Ruth that Ruth Stoops (Laura Dern) is a very screwed up person. Everyone knows that her constant fume sniffing isn't exactly making her life any better. (Even the police are fed up with her.)

When Ruth finds out she's pregnant (again), her initial reaction is that of annoyance. And after getting sentenced (again), the judge asks -- no, begs -- for her to "take care of the problem". Enter pro-lifers and pro-choicers into the whole situation, and who knows what'll happen?

The subject of abortion has always been a touchy one. (It annoys me that this is a subject still being debated.) With his directorial debut, Payne isn't afraid to show how overblown and ridiculous these debates have become. (Somewhat unsettling that this is still relevant seventeen years later.)

The very thing that keeps Citizen Ruth vibrant and biting from beginning to end is Dern in all of her twitchy glory. Whether she's crying over how miserable her life is, spewing profanities or trying to grasp the predicament she's in, Dern elicits sympathy for Ruth even though she's not exactly that great of a person. (Ruth, that is.)

Knowing its director, it certainly comes as no surprise that Citizen Ruth is wickedly funny. (Emphasis on "wicked".) Thanks to Dern's performance (which really should have earned some awards recognition), the film is willing to make fun of a controversial subject without making it crass. If you want a smart comedy, you'll find it in the form of Citizen Ruth.

My Rating: ****1/2

Friday, June 21, 2013

Wag the Dog

Boy, the things one does to maintain a reputation. Some will keep telling lies until it just escalates out of proportion. Others, if really desperate, will resort to murder.

Thankfully for Conrad Brean (Robert De Niro) and Winifred Ames (Anne Heche) of Barry Levinson's Wag the Dog, they resort to the former. Just days before the election, the President is caught up in a sex scandal. What do Conrad and Winifred do? Hire Hollywood producer Stanley Motss (Dustin Hoffman) to manufacture a fake war with Albania to distract the media.

Of course, such a scenario would be impossible to pull off today (the media;s more interested in people's sex lives than world events), but David Mamet and Hilary Henkin's script certainly provides an amusing "what if" situation. They're not afraid to show how gullible the mass population can be. (Hey, the internet churns out celebrity death hoaxes all the time.)

And Levinson enlists choice actors for his film. De Niro and Heche both try to keep the situation in order while at the same time silently panicking from the stress. Levinson also enlists the likes of Kirsten Dunst (as an actress hired for fake news footage) and Woody Harrelson (as a criminal posing as a war hero), and both make the most of their brief screentime. But it's Hoffman who owns the show.

Wag the Dog is a dark and clever little satire. Again, such a thing would be impossible to achieve in real life but then again, this was released not long before the Lewinsky scandal came to light...

My Rating: ****1/2

Thursday, June 20, 2013


Sex. A good film just isn't complete without it, is it? Sometimes it's carnal, sometimes it's sensual. Either way, if there's too much of it, there's bound to be controversy.

Steven Shainberg's Secretary isn't any different. Though this particular film is different from others because it was daring enough to revolve around S&M, something most would find either too kinky or too risky for Hollywood to tackle. But Shainberg ensures that such a devious practice is in fact not that devious.

With not exactly wide-eyed innocence, Maggie Gyllenhaal plays the titular secretary Lee Holloway. (A sexy secretary named Holloway? Where have I heard that before?) Lee is clearly a damaged soul trying to find some meaning in her life. The way Gyllenhaal plays Lee is really hypnotic. Sometimes she's meek and mild, sometimes she's in charge of the situation. It's fascinating, really.

Likewise, the way James Spader plays E. Edward Grey is a stark contrast to Gyllenhaal as Lee. He's hesitant on acting out his kinky desires but his hesitation gradually weakens when he meets Lee. Even when does act on them, his guilt practically consumes him. And Spader makes Grey both a pitiless figure and a martyr.

Secretary is certainly different from other films willing to focus on sex, but that's of course a good thing. The film doesn't focus strictly on sex; it shows the possibility of two people with sexual psychoses being in a functioning relationship. You simply don't see that handled in a mature manner.

My Rating: ****1/2

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Last of Sheila

What convinces you to see a film? The actors? The director? The plot? Whatever the reason, there will always be something in a film that'll make you want to see it.

In regards with Herbert Ross' The Last of Sheila, it wasn't who was in it or what it was about that intrigued me. (Though they did have some part in my interest.) No, what got me curious about The Last of Sheila was who wrote it. The men responsible for the script? Anthony Perkins and Stephen Sondheim, the last people you'd expect to write a whodunnit. Yet it works (for the most part).

The actors chosen are an amusing sort. Among the cast are James Coburn, Dyan Cannon, Richard Benjamin, Raquel Welch, James Mason and Joan Hackett. (There's even a young Ian McShane amongst them.) It's the difference in their personalities that makes the film vibrant.

As with other star-studded features from the era, The Last of Sheila follows an adventurous plot. Well, actually, it tries to. It falters periodically but it stays mostly solid throughout. (That's more that can be said about those other films.)

Anyway, The Last of Sheila is an all right film. Not particularly great, but it does keep your attention. So all in all, if you want an amusing romp of a film, then you've got it in the form of The Last of Sheila.

My Rating: ****

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Drugstore Cowboy

Addiction is fucking relentless, isn't it? What started as a casual thing turns into something you need or you'll just die. (Or at least feel like you will.)

Watching Gus Van Sant's Drugstore Cowboy, it certainly comes across that way with Bob Hughes (Matt Dillon). He has his wife Dianne (Kelly Lynch) and associates Rick (James LeGros) and Nadine (Heather Graham) help him steal pharmacies for his (and their) addiction. But it soon dawns on Bob that he should kick this habit and soon.

Some may view Drugstore Cowboy as simply a film about drug addiction. It could be viewed as an outlaw film in a similar vein to Badlands. The four leads are constantly on the run from the police because of their frequent robberies. They didn't want to live a life like this, but their addictions sealed their fates.

Like Van Sant's later film My Own Private Idaho, Drugstore Cowboy revolves around situated in Portland, Oregon. Thanks to the eye of cinematographer Robert Yeoman, the film depicts the city as a place where hopes and dreams die agonizing deaths. (The way Portland looks throughout drives that point home.)

Drugstore Cowboy isn't my favorite of the Van Sant films I've seen (that honor goes to either To Die For or Milk), but I did like it very much. Thanks to the lead work from Dillon, the film isn't just the typical "drugs are bad" spiel. It's willing to show how damn addictive those drugs are.

My Rating: ****1/2

Monday, June 17, 2013

My Beautiful Laundrette

Many films from the 1980s are either completely ridiculous action movies, horror movies that rely more on T & A than scares, and "dramas" whose main selling point was sex (and a lot of it). Thankfully, there were a number of films from the decade that were at least tasteful.

One such film was Stephen Frears' My Beautiful Laundrette. Set in London during Thatcher's reign, the film revolves around two men: hopeful Pakistani businessman Omar (Gordon Warnecke) and British punk Johnny (Daniel Day-Lewis). Both men are on different ends of the social spectrum, but that doesn't stop them from having an intimate relationship.

The way Frears shows Omar and Johnny's relationship is really beautiful. It's not an affair built on lust but rather desire. They never say "I love you" to each other but their body language says it for them. It's the subtlety of their relationship that I adore.

Along with the relationship, the film also handles a multitude of topics such as racism, the differences in social classes and sexual politics. Any other film would have been bogged down in these subjects but Frears knows how to limit himself. Another aspect of this film that I adore.

Anyway, My Beautiful Laundrette is a very lovely film. I'm all for romance films where the lovers speak volumes with body language than with verbal language and as stated above, this film depicts such an occurrence beautifully.

My Rating: *****

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Ghost Writer

Even when someone has a well-regarded public image, they're still bound to have a few skeletons in their closet. (More than often it'll be someone in politics.) At some point, their private lives will seep into the tabloids.

Roman Polanski's The Ghost Writer is such a film that's willing to deconstruct a person's image. (Bear in mind the director is no stranger to controversy himself.) Former Prime Minister Adam Lang (a Tony Blair caricature in the form of a smug Pierce Brosnan) is working on his memoirs and has hired a ghost writer (Ewan McGregor) to help finish it. But the ghost writer becomes curious about the fate of the writer hired before him...

Like Polanski's earlier film Chinatown, The Ghost Writer is a film with a slow burn, the kind that builds up to the big reveal. .Unlike Chinatown, however, this film moves at a slower pace and it shows in spots. Still, it pays off in the end.

And the cast is what makes the film radiate. Olivia Williams shows a mix of rage and sorrow in her role. Brosnan displays a cocky attitude while keeping up a serious demeanor. But the star is McGregor, who should really have a nomination or two by now.

The Ghost Writer is a good recent entry from Polanski though I wouldn't rank it amongst, say, The Pianist. (It does get close though.) It's really worthy of a look.

My Rating: ****1/2

Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Anderson Tapes

With many crime films, it all focuses on committing the perfect crime. It all relies on planning a plot so woven that the police wouldn't know what hit them. But what if someone knew of the supposedly elaborate scheme?

That is what Sidney Lumet's The Anderson Tapes explores. Following his release from prison, a criminal conspires to commit a massive robbery of his girlfriend's apartment building. But unbeknownst to him, there are mysterious agencies recording his every word. For what reason though?

This is one of the lesser entries among the work of Lumet and star Sean Connery though it is an amusing one. (The film was responsible for kickstarting Connery's career post-James Bond.) Another notable feat from this film? It introduced Hollywood to Christopher Walken.

The most notable sequence of The Anderson Tapes is the denouement. Interwoven with the actual crime and the aftermath of it, the sequence shows an agility that the would-be robbers in Lumet's (much) later work Before the Devil Knows You're Dead wish they had. (You thought I was going to say Dog Day Afternoon, weren't you?)

The Anderson Tapes is an all right film with some standout moments. It looks pale in comparison to Lumet's other films from the 1970s but again it has its moments. All in all, it's worth a look at least.

My Rating: ****

Friday, June 14, 2013

The Divorcee

Many films made in the early 1930s (well, up to 1934) were skimming dangerous territory. Sex, murder, drinking (this was during prohibition after all), nudity...everything found in every R-rated movie today was shocking the censors over eighty years ago.

One such film from the time period was Robert Z. Leonard's The Divorcee. The premise sounds vaguely similar to any film that tries (and fails) to get the same impact: a woman gets her sexual revenge after her husband admits to cheating on her. Nowadays it sounds like the same old song but back in 1930, this was pretty scandalous stuff.

Especially for Norma Shearer, the film's star. No one, not even MGM executive/Shearer's husband Irving Thalberg, thought she was right for the provocative role. (They were considering Joan Crawford for the part.) No one could see the actress known for playing dignified ladies taking on the role of a bad girl.

But she shocked everyone by proving she could in fact play such a role. Shearer shows her character's hurt nature when her husband admits his infidelity while also keeping up a carefree attitude when she's with one of her numerous lovers. No surprise on how she won the Oscar that year.

Shearer's performance aside, there's not much else about The Divorcee to write home about. It treads into expected territory and the other actors don't have particularly much to do. Still, it's an amusing watch.

My Rating: ****

Thursday, June 13, 2013


When we first see Marie Allen (Eleanor Parker) in John Cromwell's Caged, she looks absolutely terrified. For good reason too; she's about to go to prison for participating in a robbery.

Of course, when you see those doe-like eyes of Marie's, you know she simply doesn't belong there. You also have a notion that the guards and the other prisoners are going to make her life behind bars a living hell for Marie. And it certainly looks like that at first.

But then something happens to Marie; she starts to crack. Not just under pressure from the other prisoners but also her innocence begins to crumble. As the films wears on, her good girl demeanor fades as a nastier attitude takes its place. This is something you normally don't see in most prison films from the time.

And Parker makes this transition all the more transfixing. Seeing her soft, innocent features take on a hardened, cynical nature is just hypnotizing. One can only imagine what would have happened with Parker and her career had she won the Oscar for this. (But when you're up against the likes of Bette Davis, Anne Baxter and Gloria Swanson, it's clear that the competition will be tough.)

Caged in itself is a pretty good prison film which seems tame by today's standards. In comparison to other prison films of the time like Brute Force, Caged seems both equal to them and softer than them. All in all, if you want to see a solid underrated performance, then you'll find it in the form of Eleanor Parker in Caged.

My Rating: ****

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Mixtape Movies #6

Okay, last entry! I will conquer you like I did with the last five posts. Let's do this! (Whoa, don't know where that came from. Sorry about that.)

Anyway, the final mixtape will be about "Carnal Desires". Yesterday's list was about dead or dying relationships; this one's about those basically kept together by lust. The list starts after the jump. (And if you're wondering, no, the images provided won't be explicit.)

Monday, June 10, 2013

Mixtape Movies #5

Okay, okay. One more after this and I'll be done. (Don't get me wrong. I liked doing them.) Anyway, onward!

The theme for this penultimate list is "Love Will Tear Us Apart". (With special thanks to Joy Division for that title.) There have been countless films focusing on the budding romances and their "and they lived happily forever after" endings. What if they don't live happily ever after? That's what these films are about. The list starts after the jump. (Just FYI, I'm not including summaries except for the wildcard this time.)

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Mixtape Movies #4

Okay, let's get back into the groove of things. Fortunately for those tired of these posts, there are only two more after this one. Anyway, moving on.

The theme for this one is "Falling to Pieces". Haven't we all felt like that at some point? Where you just feel like you're slowly going insane? Well, whether you have or not (I might have a few times), Hollywood is willing to show movie characters that are on the verge of a nervous breakdown. (And if you're wondering, no, Pedro Almodovar's film of a similar title isn't on this list.) The list starts after the jump.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Super Sweet Blogging Award

We interrupt the deluge of blogathon entries to bring you a blog award. Thanks to Michael from It Rains... You Get Wet for giving me this award several days ago. Man, it's been a while since I got one of these things. Let's see if I still know what to do.


  1. Thank the Super Sweet Blogger that nominated you.
  2. Answer 5 Super Sweet questions.
  3. Include the Super Sweet Blogging Award in your blog post.
  4. Nominate a baker's dozen (13) of other deserving bloggers.
  5. Notify your Super Sweet nominees on their blogs.
Good God, 13? Sheesh... Anyway, onto the questions.
  1. Cookies or cake? Cookies.
  2. Chocolate or vanilla? No contest. Chocolate.
  3. Favorite sweet treat? Gimme a chunk of milk chocolate and I'll be happy.
  4. When do you crave sweet things the most? Usually in the middle of the day.
  5. Sweet nickname? Um...will "sweetie" work?
And now onto my thirteen (still a ridiculous number) nominees:

Friday, June 7, 2013

Mixtape Movies #3

Bear with me, guys. I've got only a few more to get through. (The choices for them are good, I'll promise you that.)

Anyway, the theme for this one is "Behind Closed Doors". I could have done a whole list of films revolving around this very subject, but I'm only permitted to six. And boy, are there a lot of films that fit this category. The list starts after the jump.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Mixtape Movies #2

As I stated yesterday, there'll be several entries for Andy's blogathon on this blog. This is only another entry amid a short list.

Anyway, the theme for this one is "The Cost of Fame". We've all heard of and encountered those who want to become famous. (Hell, sometimes even we're such a person.) But what happens to those once they've gotten famous? Do they stay there or do they crash and burn? The list starts after the jump.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Mixtape Movies #1

Andy has once again come up with a brilliant idea for a blogathon. The idea is to make a mixtape (or, to adapt to the 21st century, a playlist) of five films that revolve around a common theme plus a wildcard entry (a film that doesn't quite fit among the others but still belongs). I got really curious and as a result, I came up with several different mixtapes. (They'll be posted within the next few days.) Anyway, onto the first one.

Many of the themes for my mixtapes will be rather...dark. And the first one is no exception. The title? "Addiction is Bad". These films revolve around the downward spiral of the leads and how it can affect those close to them. The list starts after the jump.

Monday, June 3, 2013


The great innovators of varying cultures are more than often tortured souls. Authors, actors, artists, musicians...they become prone to addiction and self-destruction. Is it because fame becomes too much for them? Is it their own personal demons? What causes them to crack?

Clint Eastwood's Bird chronicles the rise and fall of jazz saxophonist Charlie "Bird" Parker (Forest Whitaker). Like many musicians before and after him, Parker rose to the top fast and crashed even faster. Drug addiction, a troubled personal life and changing times are what resulted in the decline of Charlie Parker.

I think what surprised me the most about Bird was who directed it. This was made by a man who got immortalized for playing cowboys and other tough guys. It struck me as different to see Eastwood make a film about a man slowly getting destroyed. (And I do mean slowly.) It's great stuff.

Likewise, I wasn't sure what to expect from Whitaker. I was only really familiar with him from his Oscar-winning role in The Last King of Scotland. After seeing his work in Bird, I now know that he can act. The vast difference between his roles in this and The Last King of Scotland is simply staggering. How he didn't get an Oscar nomination for Bird is beyond me.

It's slow in some spots but Bird is a great film. Thanks to solid work from Whitaker and Diane Venora (she plays Parker's worn out wife), the film stands out as a very underappreciated work. (Eastwood should do more films like this.) If you haven't seen it, you should.

My Rating: ****1/2

Sunday, June 2, 2013

The Deep End

Early on in Scott McGehee and David Siegel's The Deep End, it's established that the recent life of Margaret Hall (Tilda Swinton) is a complicated one. Her son Beau (Jonathan Tucker) is seeing nightclub owner Darby Reese (Josh Lucas) against her wishes. It doesn't take long before the situation goes from bad to worse.

How so? Darby turns up dead on the Halls' property, Margaret ends up hiding evidence that he was even there (including his body) and blackmailers show up with incriminating proof of the extent of Beau and Darby's relationship. Oh, what's a mother to do?

Now a brief summary like that sounds somewhat rubbish, but what McGehee and Siegel do with The Deep End is fascinating to watch. They take the usually tired cliches of thrillers and give them new variations on them. However, they do tend to slip into a few cliches every now and again.

Swinton, as with many of her other roles, is great here. As Margaret, she shows an uneasy nature while keeping a calm facade. Much like her later work in We Need to Talk About Kevin, Swinton handles the worst with complete dignity.

The Deep End falters a few times but overall it's a solid film. McGehee and Siegel, as stated above, make a film that tries to veer away from the cliches. It doesn't work entirely but thanks to Swinton's performance, the film certainly stands out as an underappreciated title of the last decade.

My Rating: ****

Saturday, June 1, 2013

BOOK VS MOVIE: Cloud Atlas

Rarely does one encounter a work as ambitious as Cloud Atlas. Not many works are willing to delve into many cultures and societies as much as this.

David Mitchell's novel is certainly a very ambitious piece of literature, that goes without saying. As stated above, you don't come across a piece of fiction that's this bold and daring. I don't know how long it took Mitchell to write Cloud Atlas, but his work just radiates on the page.

The adaptation by Andy and Lana Wachowski and Tom Tykwer is equally ambitious but something about it feels off. Indeed there is something fascinating about a small handful of actors taking on a range of accents, races and nationalities (and, for some, sexes) throughout the course of the film, but the slight political incorrectness of it might be why it also doesn't work entirely. Moving on, you can certainly feel elements of The Matrix and Run Lola Run throughout the film. (The 2321 and 1973 segments, respectively.)

Between the two, there's a fair share of similarities and differences. For starters, the visions Mitchell wrote were brought very much to life by the Wachowskis and Tykwer. However, said visions were altered by them as well. (Hey, if you're making a nearly three hour-long adaptation, you've gotta make sacrifices.) Still, they succeed in keeping the mystic aura of Mitchell's novel alive.

So which of the two is better? Well, some of the segments translated very well on the silver screen. However, the other segments flow better on the page than the screen. Both have their strengths and weaknesses, but only one can be deemed the victor of the two. (It's pretty clear, don't you think?)

What's worth checking out?: The book.