February 26, 2012

Shame - 2011

Director: Steve McQueen
Writer: Steve McQueen
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan


Brandon (Fassbender), a sex-addicted New Yorker with a successful technological job, has the darkness of his childhood revisit him when his sister (Mulligan) shows up for a few days.

Let me preface my remarks on this film by stating that in March 2010, Fassbender had domestic abuse charges brought against him by his girlfriend at the time for allegedly throwing her "in a drunken fury" in July of 2009 and the following November "dragged her alongside their car, hurting her ankle and bursting an ovarian cyst.” These charges were withdrawn the following month, but people need to be as aware of this as they are of Chris Brown's incident.

That said, Shame is a work of art. McQueen (despite refusing to change his name for the sake of the other guy) is a true talent whose work I'll be indulging in any chance I get. He shows a tremendous understanding of the locale for a foreign director, in addition to getting stellar performances from both leads. Fassbender has an incredibly complicated role that runs the emotional gamut, and he succeeds in spades. Mulligan is stellar as well, in a role that really allows her to let her hair down compared to what I've seen her in so far. Her rendition of "New York, New York" is breathtaking, and excels cinematically by only cutting away once. As far as I'm concerned, the NC-17 rating (albeit wholly deserved) prevented two remarkable actors from being recognized as they deserve to be. My problems with this film are minimal: there's no scene where Brandon gets help for his problem (which may be a result of the lack of DSM recognition for sex addiction) and the film has multiple ending scenes, any one of which would suffice. If you couldn't catch this theatrically, make sure you watch the full, uncut version on DVD. A

February 14, 2012

Like Crazy - 2011

Director: Drake Doremus
Writers: Drake Doremus & Ben York Jones
Starring: Anton Yelchin, Felicity Jones, Jennifer Lawrence

Jacob (Yelchin) and Anna (Jones) fall in love during college, which would be fine if the latter weren't a British exchange student in the US on a visa. Because their young love knows no bounds, Anna makes the fateful decision to spend the summer with Jacob, past her visa's expiration date. When she tries to see him next, this poor choice results in her being sent on the first plane back to England, and the two struggle to keep their respective fires burning while over 5,000 miles apart.

Admittedly, I turned up the cheesiness factor a little while writing that plot synopsis. My apologies, but I didn't know how to write it properly in keeping with the quality of the film in question. This is far from your typical romance in both tonal and technical aspects. Like Crazy ends up being a lot closer to Blue Valentine than the average, but I can promise you'll cry a bit less. The crowning achievement in the film is its realism. It's shot in an almost documentary style at times, as though someone's observing events between the two play out. This naturalistic aura is aided through the skill of the young actors, and their respective delivery of the film's improvised dialogue. I couldn't tell you how many times I recognized a moment as something I had both experienced personally and never seen depicted onscreen. Like Crazy is a great alternative to the usual Valentine's Day cinematic drivel, even if our leading lady has an unusual (and unexplained) fondness for chairs. A

February 13, 2012

Take Shelter - 2011

Director: Jeff Nichols
Writer: Jeff Nichols
Starring: Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain

Tormented by apocalyptic visions,  husband and father Curtis (Shannon) begins expanding the tornado shelter in his backyard to keep his family safe from the possibly impending storm.

This is the film that the awards season forgot. Screenplay, directing, acting...there's no fault I can find with it. Despite the grand scale the plot would imply, much of the film works because of the incredible subtlety put into the work by Nichols. Shannon always has tremendous intensity (he's the one part of the new Superman film I'm looking forward to), making him a perfect choice to play this character, and Chastain is  once again remarkable as his wife, often afraid of what's may or may not be going on in her husband's mind. While I won't say anything specific about this film's ending (the second-most discussed topic of 2011's indie film circuit after Shame), when I realized what was going on, it sent a chill down my spine. Few films are truly worth "all the awards," but this certainly belongs on that short list. A+

Safe House - 2012

Director: David Espinosa
Writer: Daniel Guggenheim
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Denzel Washington, Vera Farmiga, Brendon Gleeson

Rating: C

February 9, 2012

Chronicle - 2012

Director: Joshua Trank
Writer: Max Landis
Starring: Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell, Michael B. Jordan

Three teenage boys discover a mysterious flowing object that imbues them with telekinetic powers. They immediately break the number one rule of such an occurrence: using said powers solely for personal gain. Things take a dark turn when one of them takes things too far.

Just when you think the "found footage" genre is beating a dead horse, Chronicle premieres as the #1 movie domestically and worldwide, and deservedly so. This is the one story yet to be told: what happens when you have no desire to do either great good or evil for the world, but just to make life more convenient? Debut director Trank has assembled a stellar cast of unknowns, and you never question the validity of the source of the camera (hence the film's title). It's clear that the young Landis has much of his father's talent, and I hope the rest of his screenplays in production turn out as well as this had. A+

February 5, 2012

The Grey - 2012

Director: Joe Carnahan
Writers: Joe Carnahan & Ian MacKenzie Jeffers
Starring: Liam Neeson, Joe Anderson, Dermot Mulroney

A man paid to keep wolves away from an oil drilling facility (Neeson) leads a group of survivors against unnaturally violent and intelligent wolves following a plane crash in the Alaskan wilderness.

This film is the first big movie of the year to be truly undeserving of its RottenTomatoes rating. It's excessively violent and vulgar (could easily have been made PG-13, which probably would have helped it beat Chronicle at the box office), on top of not being the film advertised. Everyone went into that theater wanting to see Liam Neeson beat up some wolves, and instead you get to watch Liam Neeson: a Tortured Soul who Fails to Save Anyone from Wolves. Also, picking a recognizable face to lead a film of relative nobodies? BIG mistake there. I only saw this because I got sick of the rude people on either side of me in Chronicle, but this movie and Woman in Black aren't a tenth as good combined as the first half of Chronicle was. D-