Archive for the Film Reviews Category

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

Review #47- The Wrestler

The Wrestler

When taking a look at Darren Aronofskys filmography, The Wrestler seems to fit in less than the others. After all, his debut film Pi and its successor Requiem for a Dream make for unsubtle and intense movie-watching experiences, while The Fountain is a visually stunning experiment. More recently, with Black Swan, Aronofsky has combined film-making styles and created a piece of cinema that is both viscerally and aesthetically pleasing. His fourth feature, however, proves that he is a rare breed of director; one that can step out of his comfort zone and deliver something subtle and touching, yet still riveting.

Professional wrestler Randy The Ram Robinson (Mickey Rourke) is past his prime and has many personal and financial woes. When health issues force him to retire from the ring, Randy attempts to pull his life together. He tries reuniting with his estranged daughter (Evan Rachel Wood), takes a stab at fueling a romantic relationship with aging stripper, Cassidy (Marisa Tomei), and begins to work extra hours at his local supermarkets deli counter. The sadness of being a has-been wrestler, faced with day to day troubles permeates every pore of this touching character study.

While not as showy as in his other movies, Aronofskys directing chops are in top form. The film is shot using mainly hand-held cameras, adding grittiness and realism to the storys emotional thrust. While more actor-centric than director-based, Aronofsky still employs some interesting stylistic touches. For example, in almost all of the many scenes involving somebody walking, the camera faces the persons back. The camerawork is a constant reminder that as good as the films acting is, there is an adept man pulling the strings.

Mickey Rourkes performance can barely be put into words, it is so astounding. The man does not play Randy The Ram Robinson, he is The Ram. From perfect subtle facial expressions to emotional outbursts, Rourke brings realism and sorrow to this once in a lifetime role. Because the lead actor is never a harbinger of cloying sentimentality, he gives a brutally raw and honest performance. Supporting ladies Tomei and Wood are terrific as well, bringing everything they can to their roles, and more. Tomeis aging stripper is a perfect foil to Rourkes aging wrestler, while Wood is completely believable as the angry daughter who has avoided contact with her irresponsible father.

The film stands as a brilliant study of a beaten down and bruised wrestler, fueled by a pivotal performance of Mickey Rourkes career, as well as extremely good turns from his supporting women. With The Wrestler, Darren Aronofsky has proven that he is not restricted to making visceral excitement, but can do nuanced work if he wants. The direction and cinematography are not disruptive to the movies flow, but rather, help add to its painful realism. Handled by someone less talented than Aronofsky, The Wrestler would probably cross into sentimentality in the most manipulative ways possible. As sad as much of the films subject material is, its point is clear: its better to burn out than to fade away.

4 Stars

Review #46- Black Swan

Black Swan

When ballerina Beth MacIntre (Winona Ryder) is fired by stage director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel), Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) is chosen to take her place. Leroy hopes for Nina to be Swan Queen in the upcoming season of his Swan Lake production. Striving for perfection as a dancer and supported by her overprotective mother (Barbara Hershey), Nina begins to lose grip on reality when rival ballerina, Lily (Mila Kunis), is cast as her alternate. Lily is a loose and emotionally driven dancer who represents the sensual Black Swan in Swan Lake. Driven by jealousy and repression, the good spirited Swan Queen explores the dark side in preparation for her performance.

Darren Aronofsky does one hell of a job directing Black Swan, his most brilliant film to date. Only a true auteur could make such a unique and thought provoking movie, a fact that hereby cements Aronofsky as an auteur. Every sequence brings beauty the screen, with help from astounding art direction and cinematography. This is essentially a black and white film shot in color, as almost everything is set up in symbolic dark and light hues. Different characters wear contrasting clothing depending on their moods and the context of the individual scene. The simple B&W emphasizes the struggle between good and evil, sets up the film like a production of Swan Lake, and shows how quickly someone can change from one side of morality to the other. On top of all the symbolism, the colors are stark and gorgeous, and give immediacy to the storys beauty. Last but not least, the stunning dance scenes are shot mainly in close-ups, enabling the viewer to see the sweat and concentration on the dancers face(s). What an impeccably directed film this is!

Some of the most consistently excellent acting is found here. This is truly a career turning role for Natalie Portman, who is backed up by rock solid performances from Kunis, Hershey, and Cassel, who steal every scene they are in. Because the film is an odd cross between melodrama, horror, and psychological thriller, the actors need to bring their all, a feat which they accomplish with flying colors (or should I say blacks and whites). Although the screenplay is only slightly above average and often comes close to stepping on convention, it never truly crosses the line into the land of cliche. The near-perfect acting, direction, and aesthetic stops the film from falling into any ruts that it teeters near.

Clint Mansell deserves some much-needed love for the films soundtrack. The man is a brilliant and underrated composer, whose Black Swan score is haunting, melodious, and suspenseful. Each music track instills the fact that Aronofsky and Mansell are a collaboration match made in heaven.

Black Swan belongs to Darren Aronofsky and Natalie Portman. Its script may not be amazing, but who cares? The direction and performances are so masterful that they not only conceal, but bandage any shortcomings that a less adept film would be ruined by. This piece of art is also nice to look at and listen to, because of its pretty art direction and top-notch score. Some may call it twisted, others may call it scary; I call it bravura cinema.

3.5 Stars