Review #51- Breathless


After stealing a car and shooting a police officer, Michel (Jean-Paul Belmondo) runs to his American girlfriend, Patricia (Jean Seberg), and shacks up with her in Paris. While cops work overtime to catch the murderer and bring him to justice, Michel tries getting a loan so that he and Patricia can flee to Italy. As detectives begin closing in, Michels main concern is attempting to seduce his girlfriend. He is emotionally attached to her, but Patricias independent nature is an obstacle which he relentlessly tries vanquishing, trying to get her to sleep with him.

Jean-Luc Godards debut film, Breathless, is considered one of the finest and most influential films of the French New Wave, and rightfully so. Out of any movie from 1960 that I have seen, it feels the most modern. Godard uses the medium of film to its full potential by implementing many cinematic techniques into his picture such as cross-cutting, voice over, and camera zooms. Take the opening scene, for instance, which shows Michel being chased by the cop that he ends up shooting. The lead character hilariously narrates most of the scene, turning a grim situation into a darkly comedic one. By taking the viewer into the antiheros mind, the sequence ends up being existential, but uproariously funny at the same time. Oh, and this is all done via hand-held camera on a low budget.

Godard also wrote the screenplay, based on a scenario by none other than Francois Truffaut (another key player in the New Wave movement). Much of the dialogue is improvised, and flows very smoothly. A long scene between Michel and Patricia in the latters apartment simply consists of talking while the former tries seducing her. Instead of being repetitive and feeling dragged out, the spontaneity of the conversation makes the scene funny, and sheds light onto each characters motivations and traits.

The two leads are wonderful here. Belmondo defines cool with his sunglasses and Humphrey Bogart persona. Seberg plays the female counterpart with a wavering sense of independence and a flirty nature. She is a delight to watch, whether frustrating Michel or playing along with him. The pair has wonderful on-screen chemistry, which serves as a nice addition to (or maybe its the cause of) the seemingly effortless conversational scenes.

With Breathless, Godard has shaped a fairly basic story into a highly entertaining, funny picture. It is a prime example of style helping out a film, as the rapid jump-cuts help create its frenetic pace. The acting, dialogue, and excellent direction harmonize, creating a finely tuned, expertly crafted movie. So much of its success relies upon the leads chemistry, making Belmondo and Seberg excellent casting choices. Just a year after Truffaut accomplished a similar feat, Godard made a debut film that blows many experienced directors movies out of the water. My only problem with it is that its running time is too short, as the film is so much fun to watch. It may be a cliche, but it is certainly true to say, Breathless will leave you breathless.

4 Stars

Review #50- Falling Down

Falling Down

During an intense traffic jam, a man (Michael Douglas) exits his car and heads off into the hot Los Angeles day. The reason? Its his daughters birthday, and he will do anything to reach her. The man encounters many people and places along his journey, and uses them as conduits to express his frustrations with society. There is a Korean shopkeeper whose merchandise has economy-inflated prices, a group of gangland hoodlums, a commercialized burger joint, and a gay-hating Nazi, just to name a few. Our very flawed protagonist uses violence to deal with his societal issues, and picks up weapons along the way to help him out.

Robert Duvall is Detective Prendergast, a cop whose last day on the job goes from uneventful to fascinating, when he finds out what kind of damage Michael Douglass character is wreaking. Prendergast finds the mans abandoned car, and notices that the license plate reads D-Fens. Using his detective skills and desire to keep the city safe from a raving lunatic, he begins to track down D-Fens (the name Michael Douglas is billed as in the credits) as the man gets closer and closer to the destination that is his daughter.

Directed by Joel Schumacher, Falling Down is an extremely disappointing movie; one that has a fantastic premise and a strong lead performance, but ultimately falls down (no pun intended) on its face. The films lack of subtlety, mediocre performances (with the exception of Douglas), and poor screenplay add up to create a failure.

D-Fens encounters problems with society along his way, but attacks the problems in a far too irrational and obvious manner. For example, D-Fens enters a shop to buy a soda and becomes outraged by the stores high prices. He goes over to multiple items of merchandise, and emphasizes (out loud) how each one is overpriced. By the very first item, the point trying to be proven is clear; however, the man continues ranting on for several minutes, and even goes as far as destroying many of the shopkeepers shelves of goods. Throughout the film, Schumacher seems intent on showcasing his own issues with consumerism, crime, and societal laziness. However, he and screenwriter Ebbe Roe Smith feel the need to hammer the message home using broad strokes, exaggerated scenarios, and lazy dialogue.

In addition to its scenario problems, Falling Down is also structurally flawed. Though it tries its damnedest, its two main plot lines (Douglass and Duvalls) really never mesh as smoothly as they should. Because each story contains so much unnecessary exposition-ridden drama, the film feels episodic, as if two completely different tales are being told. To be fair, D-Fens drama with his family is necessary, as he is trying to reach them. However, whenever Predergast stops his police pursuits to have a scene with his needy wife or obnoxious co-workers, the drama rings false and feels pointlessly put into the movie. It also doesnt help that most of the films supporting performances are bad; almost every moment involving a side character is scarred by the poor acting.

Falling Down, while presenting some neat concepts and an excellent Michael Douglas performance, is a mess. Its lack of subtlety is so in your face that it grows wearisome and often feels sloppily put together. Although his acting is pretty good, I have no idea what Robert Duvall is doing in this movie, as he seems to only be in it to tie together the ending. Douglas fans beware; leave this one lying on the ground.

4 stars

Review #49- The Kings Speech

The King’s Speech

The Kings Speech details King George VIs (Colin Firth) rise from Duke of York to the throne, and his interactions with speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush). The setting is Britain right before World War II. When the Duke of Yorks king brother abdicates, responsibility to keep the nations morale high is suddenly transferred to George VI, a man with a stammer. Radio is becoming more and more popular, and the King must overcome his speech impediment so that he can address his country in a public broadcast, giving citizens some much-needed support.

The movies main character may stutter, but the film itself certainly doesnt. Colin Firth is wonderfully cast here, and gives a tremendous performance. Somehow, he manages to encapsulate all of the characteristics of a stammering king, while never overacting. Instead of being showy, Firth plays his character both subtly and intensely; his introverted nature is apparent simply through facial expression, while his short temper flares hotly when the scene calls for it. The stress of having grown up among royalty (and with an impediment, no less) has clearly taken its toll upon our protagonist, making him layered and infinitely interesting to watch. Geoffrey Rush does not shine quite as brilliantly as his co-star does (lets face it, though-who can?), but nonetheless does exceptionally in the role he is given. As the Kings personal mentor and friend, Logue is not only a key player in the story, but also a major influence on George VIs self esteem.

Not to be left out here are two more performances of note: Helena Bonham Carter as Elizabeth, the Kings loving wife; and Guy Pearce as Edward, George VIs brother. Just like Logue, Elizabeth is supportive of the King in times of need and crisis, working with her husband to help him overcome his verbal challenges. Edward is the irresponsible brother who becomes King, but must renounce the royalty over to his (more capable) brother, due to a romantic choice (Edwards fiancee is a divorced woman: a big no-no for British kings).

David Seidlers script is very solid: dramatic, touching, and often funny. For parents who are up in the air about letting their children watch The Kings Speech because of its R rating, ignore the MPAA and go see it with them. The film only has such a high rating because of bad language, all of which is used here in good taste and helps drive the plot forward. This is thanks to Seidlers careful handling of the screenplay, which never uses tasteless humor. As sophisticated and British as the dialogue is, it never loses momentum, and constantly engrosses the viewer.

Danny Cohen delivers really nice cinematography, aided and abetted by top tier production and costume design. The films look plays a major part in setting up the time, tone, and location, and is easy on the eyes. Tom Hoopers very good direction helps convey frustration whenever George VI must speak publicly, using the camera to capture nervousness and the stakes of each scene. Who would have thought a simple speech could be so suspenseful?

In the end, The Kings Speech is a crowd-pleasing experience. While not groundbreaking or bold, it conveys an interesting historical story extremely well. The film-making is classic, performances are great across the board, and the art direction is sublime. The MPAA should have rated this an MS for Must See, as this is one you wont want to miss.

4 Stars

Review #48- Blue Valentine

Blue Valentine

Simply put, Blue Valentine is not an easy movie to watch. The film is a laborious display of a marriage from inception to downfall, and feels painfully realistic. Director Derek Cianfrance does the task of showing matrimony in the least synthetic and sentimental way possible, aided by the films doomed couple, played by Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams.

The film succeeds mainly because of its raw performances. If any pair of actors in a 2010 film has chemistry, it has to be Gosling and Williams. Gosling is Dean, an irresponsible but loving husband who constantly uses desperate methods to try to repair his marriage, while Williams is Cindy, a tired wife who knows that she is falling out of love with her spouse. Not only does each actor give an independently tremendous performance, the raw honesty brought to screen fizzles like baking soda and vinegar. When the doomed pair falls in love, you believe it; when things go downhill for them, you feel it with them. Neither puts a single toe out of step with his/her characters personality, bringing about two of the most dedicated acting turns of the past few years.

Realistic dialogue contributes to the movies power. Most of the conversations between characters feel improvised, with an emphasis on naturalism that elicits believable emotions. Despite having a slight indie vibe, the film is never tacky, and rarely resorts to quirk. Additionally, its structure is well edited; flashbacks are appropriately timed to correspond with current situations. The usage of cutting directly from abysmal marriage problems to happy courtship flashbacks makes the couples falling out profound and heart-wrenching.

Cianfrance does not chicken out by setting his film in a mainstream mold; rather, he uses totally depressing scenarios in service of tasteful cinema. The movie might as well be titled Black Valentine, as its somber tone may leave viewers cold inside. Nevertheless, the director still manages to make his project a delicate cautionary tale, rather than an exercise in cruelty. This is not torture porn; it is high art.

The only fault to bestow upon this extremely well-crafted movie is that it runs too long. There are several scenes near the end which are (done purposely or not) false endings. Because the storys outcome is so bleakly obvious, less exposition and closure may have suited the film better. Nevertheless, perhaps the additional run-time is fitting for a picture as emotionally draining as this. Deep down, I would like to believe that Cianfrance was trying to make the audience experience the same tedium his characters feel. The films final shot is artfully melancholic, allowing the ending to be beautiful and sad, rather than just weakly fizzling out.

Blue Valentine is a film that most will probably respect more than they enjoy. Derek Cianfrance presents a bold, uncompromising vision of a dying relationship, brought to life by two wonderful performances. It is beautifully acted, directed and edited, and manages to be extremely watchable, despite pulling no punches. Certain scenes will reach into your chest and tear your heart out, an indication of a wholly effective drama.

4 Stars

Countdown: Top 5 films of 2001

#5: The Devils Backbone [Guillermo del Toro]

the devils backbone: top of

#4: Mulholland Dr. [David Lynch]

mulholland drive: top of

#3: Y Tu Mama Tambien [Alfonso Cuaron]

y tu mama tambien: top of

#2: Black Hawk Down [Ridley Scott]

black hawk down: top of

#1: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring [Peter Jackson]

fellowship: top of