Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Midnight in Paris

Woody Allen movies don't strike a chord with each and every type of film fan, that's a given. This is most probably due to his very eccentric style that includes weird dialogue timing, strange plot twists and his predisposition for certain types of actors. Nevertheless, there's always a lot of excitement around each new release from the mind of this quite comical little man – Everyone waits with bated breath to see if the next will be another big hit or another unsatisfying cinematic fail.

Luckily, Midnight in Paris is definitely one of the former: It successfully boxes all the things Woody does well and scents them in a fragrance of sweet sentimentality. It is part period piece, part comedy, part drama and a few parts crazy. But in Woody's weird and wonderful head, all of this comes together quite spectacularly in a film that might leave even your more hard film nuts showing a few emotional cracks by the time the credits roll.

"But in Woody's weird and wonderful head, all of this comes together quite spectacularly in a film that might leave even your more hard film nuts showing a few emotional cracks by the time the credits roll"

A wonderfully suited cast, with slight off-beat performances brings Woody's humoristic dream of Paris to life:  Marion Cotilard, Katthy Bates, Corey Stoll, Léa Seydoux, Kurt Fuller, Alison Pill and a greatly snotty, but believable performance by Rachel McAdams. There’s a lot of chemistry between the ensemble cast and Allen uses all of his actors well to successfully imbue different historical eras with authenticity and believability.

And then of course there’s Owen Wilson. It's certainly a contested statement, but I believe this might just be Wilson's best performance as an actor – it definitely is my personal favourite and most believable one from Wilson to date. Without giving too much away, let's just say Wilson gets treated to a fair degree of twilight events that immediately shines a harsh light on some serious issues with his intimate relationship that he till date, has tried to deny. Whilst Owen comes over as a bit confused for most of the film (which is understandable if you consider what he goes through) , it is his interactions with the rest of the cast that truly gives him the opportunity to flex his acting muscles. His Golden Globe nomination is well deserved.

All of this happens on a beautiful part period, part fantasy stage that Allen brings to life in a most accomplished manner. An enchantingly fitting score, amazing set pieces and inspired costumes all work together to make the film's strange turn of events all that more believable. Allen's brilliant sense of humour helps the viewer to understand that you are not supposed to take the events too literal – rather, simply enjoy the trip that you are taken on, relishing in the film's small touches of charm and interesting use (or should we say 'abuse') of French history. All of this care makes it clear why the film was awarded with the Golden Globe for best screenplay.

But what makes Allen's latest overcome the label of simply 'great' and transcend into 'outstanding' is the clever addition of revealing social commentary that one gets presented with as you travel the lively streets of Paris: People will always fantasize that life was easier, better and more exciting in past centuries. Whilst this might or might not be true, life is about accepting the bad with the good by living with complete conviction in the 'now' of your troublesome existence. It's a great lesson and one that Allen teaches with utmost sensitivity and ample plot backing.

This is a rare gem of a story that everyone should experience.

Even non-romantics will find a lot to appreciate here.

Highlight: As Wilson realizes that his adventure is nearing its end, he shares some comforting insights on human existence. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The girl with the dragon tattoo (2011)

Remakes are always a tricky business, as it’s very hard not to compare the adaptation with its original and with uniqueness not being much of an option, the movie really needs to  be spectacular in every way if it has any hopes of impressing. This would explain why I was quite nervous when I heard one of my all-time favourite directors; the incredible David Fincher was attempting a reinterpretation of Swedish director, Niels Arden Oplev’s 2009 international hit. However, 30 minutes into the movie, all of my uncertainties evaporated as I realised that I was watching something truly brilliant unfold.

In my review of the Swedish original, I actually compare the 2009 film with one of Fincher’s intensely beautiful crime-thrillers, Zodiac, noting that it’s a great movie, but not quite as good as Fincher’s 2007 cult hit. Seeing the original ‘Girl with the dragon Tattoo’, Fincher obviously realised that the highly emotional journey of Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander fits his extremely detailed film style perfectly. This must be why he embarked on this ambitious mission of making it more accessible to an international film audience.
And as I already hinted, he delivers in spades, bringing to life a mystery suspense drama that successfully combines great acting, tight storytelling and captivating cinematography in one well-rounded package of a film. True to Fincher’s signature ways, the film is highly detailed, as the audience is plunged in the centre of a heated media debacle involving the film’s protagonist. Fincher doesn’t waste time explaining the film’s background or introducing the characters and immediately starts getting to the good stuff:  An enthralling story that involves murder, rape and a disquieting list of sinister subject matter.

“An enthralling story that involves murder, rape and a disquieting list of sinister subject matter.”

Daniel Craig might seem like a bit of an unlikely lead as a desperate journalist who finds his world in turmoil, but you’ll find it difficult to critique his fittingly cold and detached performance. Rooney Mara also manages to silence the critics, as she introduces Western film audiences to one of the most ambitiously complex film characters of recent history. Veteran actors like Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgard, Joely Richardson and Geraldine James serve as fantastic physical as well as emotional obstacles for the leads to overcome as they try to unravel the dark mysteries of a small island community.

Whilst Fincher’s meticulous method of storytelling help to keep every minute interesting, it’s the film’s more intense scenes that are sure to get your pulse racing – These include a few very graphic and disturbing moments that you won’t soon forget. Fincher does however take his time, resulting in an engaging mystery thriller that is perfectly balanced between drama and suspense. And because everything happens at a gradual pace, the film’s more striking moments come over as just that much more intense and poignant.

To sum up, Fincher manages to improve on the original in almost each and every way, resulting in a very detailed film that is surprisingly accessible. Great acting, pacing and more than a few highly memorable scenes make this a movie you’ll be talking about for quite a while. I’m terribly excited to see Fincher continue his work on this captivating trilogy.

If you were wondering about the name of the film...
Highlight: Stepping right into the lion’s mouth leads to a bone-chilling confrontation and an unsettling speech that’s sure to leave you uncomfortable. 

Friday, January 6, 2012

Ides of March

Movies about politics aren't for everyone, which is something I should probably take into consideration as I’m writing this review for George Clooney’s political suspense drama, Ides of March. But  that’s the best thing about this beautiful film of Clooney – Even though there’s an unmistakable political backdrop, the movie could have been about accounting, logistics or any other industry where people are fighting, crawling and backstabbing  their way to the top of the corporate ladder.  It’s this extreme relevance to any working person’s own struggles that imbues the film with much more accessibility  than you would expect from a movie with senators, governors and would-be presidents.

Clooney and his fantastic screenplay team of Grant Heslov and Neau Willimon do a stand-up job of making the film seem as realistic as possible as the amount of research that went into the plot is clearly visible from start to finish. Some might be intimidated by the heavy political jargon at first, but this is a crucial ingredient for internal validity that makes the film’s intense plot twists all the more credible and poignant. To make things even sweeter, Clooney never descends into the realms of predictably, as character’s choices never feel like mere plot inventions. Whilst the extremely honest and ‘real’ approach might bore certain film-goers, I personally didn’t have to force myself to enjoy each and every second of this marvellous take on modern politics.

The first part of the movie plays out like a drama about politics for the most part, as Clooney takes his time to introduce us to all the political players, their ideologies as well as the complex and dynamic relationships between each of them. Outstanding performances by a mammoth cast of A-list actors including Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood and Clooney himself means there’s a lot for drama geeks to indulge in and appreciate before the suspenseful action starts picking up. Sharp dialogue, a striking score and generously long scenes of conversation give Clooney and his cast a beautiful stage for playing out this highly relevant and timely drama.
"Sharp dialogue, a striking score and generously long scenes of conversation give Clooney and his cast a beautiful stage for playing out this highly relevant and timely drama."
The star, Ryan Gosling, deserves to be mentioned in a separate sentence (and paragraph for that matter) for his painfully believable performance as an aspiring campaign press secretary that has to deal with some massive events, forcing him to revaluate his political and personal principles. Gosling’s highly personal and emotional character evolution is the central  axis that the rest of the movie gradually starts to orbit around as he tries to keep himself from drowning in a growingly turbulent sea of political scandal, plotting and backlashes.  There are a lot of chess pieces on the board in this personally explorative film and each player manages to highlight another crack in Gosling’s seemingly indestructible moral compass.

All along the way, the audience is confronted with highly ambiguous moral puzzles that Gosling tries to solve in ways that fits his naive perception of politics and life the best way. Clooney gets his point across clearly: Even though mankind strives to react morally sound in all types of situations, this is sometimes just not possible when all the sacrifices and losses of certain choices are taken into consideration – How much are we willing to adapt to our own principles to get ahead and how deep will we throw others under the bus to achieve certain goals?

Serious film-goers who don’t require big explosions and extravagant plot mechanisms to keep their attention will struggle to find fault with Clooney’s masterpiece. That being said, fans of Vin Diesel and surfer movies should probably stay far away.

Gosling is troubled by a huge political oil spill.... Sjame.
Highlight: The inevitable confrontation between Clooney and Gosling is the film’s climax and each line feels like a brilliant knife to the heart – Perfect in more ways than I can verbalise.