What movie was that...?

24 September 2013

Prisoners

directed by Denis Villeneuve

You make it sound like an episode of SVU. No thanks.
                           -my wife, when I asked her if she wanted to see Prisoners with me.

I tip my cap to Roger Deakins, for the bulky, heavy (occasionally overcooked) mystery that is Prisoners looks spectacular. I could almost feel the cold, the damp, the dread and the darkness as I hunkered down for the two and half hour, bleakness-soaked tensioner overflowing with great talent trying their best (but not always succeeding) to commit to material that valiantly endeavors to not run off the rails. Sadly, that order is taller than this film, but the twin saving graces of Prisoners are the always genius of Mr Deakins, and the coiled, restrained, dynamite performance by Jake Gyllenhaal. It’s been a long time since I could unabashedly say that I think Jake Gyllenhaal is a tremendous actor without the usual retaliatory onslaught. Zodiac, Brokeback Mountain, Donnie Darko. Hell, I still stand by the absurdist comedy of Bubble Boy and the brainless grunginess of Highway, but never more so than in Prisoners has Gyllenhaal given us so much with so little. I mean that in the best, most refreshing possible way, and some credit for this must go to writer Aaron Guzikowski for avoiding the clichéd type of bottled story scene in which detective Loki (Gyllenhaal) sits down on a cold porch with Hugh Jackman and yammers on about a troubled childhood, rough past and/or possible similar scenario from his past in which he was once the victim. Instead, a handful of back porch tattoos, a half mumbled throwaway line about spending time in a home for boys and a bristling fury become more than enough for an artist like Gyllenhaal to tell us everything about detective Loki. Gyllenhaal’s performance alone is worth the price of admission (Academy, you better be paying attention), though I will say it’s criminal how infrequently a talent like Paul Dano graces the screen, and he does not disappoint as outsider Alex, the whisper of a person who becomes the source of frenzied suspicion among the two families whose daughters vanish. If well-made, well-acted (Jackman and Terence Howard were casting missteps, though they try their damndest) and thematically on the nose thrillers are your cup of tea, then Prisoners will be your film of the year, which sounds like an insult of the film’s merits, but it really isn’t. I quite liked it, and as I have said before, a film’s earnestness (which Prisoners has in spades), when it is pure, can be a saving grace when other elements don’t exactly stack up.

17 September 2013

The World's End

directed by Edgar Wright

It’s a fitting send off for the hilarious Cornetto Trilogy: the story of five friends getting back together to sift through life’s trials whilst hacking their way through The Golden Mile, a twelve pub crawl wending a path through their sleepy suburban town. But (of course) things are not what they seem, and as the men guzzle brew from pub to pub, a strange menace seeks to strike them down. The World’s End is often hilarious, frequently badass, and Edgar Wright has shown that he clearly knows how to blend comedy and action (both Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz illustrate this brilliantly). But where the first two Cornetto films shine most is in the blending of the trifecta: comedy, action and drama. I don’t mean to say that Shaun of the Dead is dramatic in any Speilbergian sense, but the scene in the jaguar where Bill Nighy tells Simon Pegg that he just wanted Pegg to grow into a good man is a touching and effective scene amid a barrage of hilarious horror action, touching because it is well written, well acted and well blended into the narrative. In The World’s End, these types of scenes are somewhat forced, bulky scenes that slow the movie down in their attempt to shoehorn a bit of dramatic weight into the plot. The scene between Nick Frost and Simon Pegg in The World’s End (the pub proper) is a prime example, as is the parlor scene that follows it. It may have its problems, but I won’t begrudge Mr W for it, especially when the rest of the movie is such a bloody- pardon me- inky good time.

02 September 2013

The Kings of Summer vs The Way Way Back

KoS directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts/WWB directed by Nat Faxon & Jim Rash

The golden leaves lining my neighborhood streets are harbingers heralding the end of summer, and perhaps it’s time I finally got around to writing about two noteworthy films from the summer passed, The Kings of Summer and The Way Way Back. These two films deal with coming of age in simultaneously traditional and novel ways, and both enjoy their own successes, but I have to call it in favor of Faxon and Rash on the basis of their well honed screenplay. Jordan Vogt-Roberts subscribes to a kind of dreamy, disjointed directorial style that serves Kings well, but its weakness stems from the story itself. The story of a trio of teens determined to live on their own for the summer take to crafting a lost boys style shack in the nearby state wilderness is interesting enough, but it seemed too slavishly written to adhere to this “one summer as a metaphysical microcosm” motif. The entire cast was charmingly believable (particularly Gabriel Basso and Nick Robinson), but there were times in the film when the teens seemed to act in a way altogether incongruous with their age and with their previous actions in the film. Way Way Back’s Liam James is stellar as the 14 old misfit who finds his grit and gusto while working at a dilapidated water park run by slackerish Owen (Sam Rockwell is a true blue joy to savor in every scene, and I so so love Maya Rudolph). I give screenwriter Chris Galletta credit for attempting to go long with Kings, but his vision exceeded his throw (a particular problem I could not reconcile was the amount of time it would have actually taken to build that house from scrounged parts), while Faxon and Rash seem to have an innate understanding for rhythms and parallelism, metaphor and motif, for making such a well trod path seem fresh and alive. Not to mention that both Faxon and Rash are superb in the bit roles they wrote for themselves. Both films are worth a watch, but if it had to be one or the other, I would say The Way Way Back is the better bet.