Greenberg Review

•August 12, 2010 • Leave a Comment

 

 

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Greenberg is a 2010 American comedy-drama film staring Ben Stiller, co written by actor Jennifer Jason Leigh.

The film’s soundtrack features the first film score by James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem and DFA Records fame, which is amazing as you could have sworn it was a retro compilation mix.

Plot

Fresh out of a mental institution, Roger Greenberg (Ben Stiller), a 40-year-old man, returns to L.A. to housesit for his brother. We learn that this is Greenberg’s home town, where he and his friends were on the cusp of signing a record deal 15 years beforehand. Greenberg quickly strikes up a relationship with his brothers 20 something assistant, Florence. Soon Greenberg is attempting to reconnect with his old friends and past life including his ex girlfriend, his bitter old band mates all the while struggling with his age amongst the twenty-something’s he finds him self surrounded by.

Review

As Jeff Bridges in The Big Lebrowski, Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler. and George Clooney in Up in the Air, Ben Stiller is Greenberg – a 40 something man constantly attempting to break into youth culture. This was acknowledged in his Tropic Thunder marketing skit for MTV, but is explored even further here.

Stiller does an amazing job playing such a character that is so unlikeable. This is probably due to fact that many aging males can relate to Greenberg or, at least, know of someone who is just like him.

The fantasy of the single bachelor is cast into an uncomfortable reality in Greenberg. Instead of being awesome and travelling the world, wearing a suit, having affairs and unfathomable adventures a la James Bond or Barney from How I Met Your Mother (“legen-I-hope-you’re-not-lactos-intolerent-dary”), Greenburg is surrounded by reminders of what he should be doing with his life and, when trying to break into the fantasy of bachelorhood, is reminded of the reality of his situation. An example being his 20 something crush not being able to offer him any ‘real’ drinks at her modest apartment apart from half a bottle of corona, and her owning a dinosaur hologram ruler. The humor and awkwardness of such situations are pleasantly and nauseatingly entwined.

The film is a great study of the micro-culture of youth in LA. As Greenberg himself admits, it was only a moment ago that he was 27, thus middle-age existentialism vs young adult existentialism. A drowning, grey haired skunk with a party full of laughing gen Y’s is a heavy but apt metaphor.

It wouldn’t matter to me if Greenberg had or hadn’t had a mental breakdown or become institutionalized. It is enough that this character has had a psycho-sexual fix on the events of 15 years prior: what if he had signed that contract? Is there still hope? Maybe if I get my friends back together I can repent with what I have done to their lives and fix everything! With such noble motives but flawed logic, Greenberg has to learn to let go, thus accepting his life and with that, the beginning of a new decade.

Rating

I enjoyed not knowing exactly where the film was taking me, a bit like Greenberg himself I guess. It unfolded at such a steady-pace that it could have been a television series a la What About Brian with a difference: I cared for the character and was interested in where he may or may not end up.

4 half drunken bottles of Corona out of 5

 

Check out the film at IMDB, see what Margaret and David have to say, and check out the trailer..

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Luke McWilliams August 2010

 

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A Single Man Review

•August 12, 2010 • Leave a Comment

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A Single Man is a 2009 film based on a novel by Christopher Isherwood and is the feature debut of fashion designer Tom Ford

Firth has received career best reviews for his performance and was awarded the Volpi Cup for Best Actor at the 66th Venice International Film Festival in 2009, and also the BAFTA Award for Best Actor. He was also nominated for the Academy Award, Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild, and BFCA.

Plot

The film is set in LA, a month after the Cuban missile crisis. We follow George Falconer (played by Colin Firth) who is a gay middle-aged English college professor who is still mourning the death of his long term partner.

As a result of his inconsolable grief, George decides that at day’s end, he will take his own life. We witness George’s day and are privy to past experiences, his views on his future, and the emotions he experiences when he farewells items that hold sentimental value and people that he knows. As George methodically prepares for his suicide, a few of life’s unexpected surprises come his way, which may disrupt his plans after all.

Review

Known for his role as Mr Darcy in Pride and Prejudice (and I guess in Bridget Jones’ Diary), Colin Firth here is extraordinary in his understated performance as George Falconer. There is also a surprising but welcome performance by Julian Moore, who plays George’s long-term friend.

The strong, deep but effortless performance of Colin Firth, like Ben Stiller in Greenberg, was the back-bone of this character study, and he is convincing.

The Cuban Missile Crises serves as a very apt allegory which captures the feelings George experiences in relation to his own expectation of his life: an over-hanging sense of unavoidable, apocalyptic doom.

The script is very tight but allows for a loose, dream-like ambience which is due also to the beautiful cinematography and score. The film’s narration and structure when combined with smooth editing, especially in its flashback and slightly surreal sequences, results in creating a poetic flavour.

 

Rating

This is the type of film that I love: a perfect example of the power of film to deliver a narrative using all available techniques to manipulate the senses. 

5 out of 5 martinis

Check out the film at IMDB, see what Margaret and David have to say, and watch the trailer.

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Luke McWilliams August 2010

The Waiting City Review

•August 12, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Plot

 

The Waiting City plays host to an apparently happily married Australian couple, Fiona (played by Radha Mithcel) who is a corporate lawyer and her husband Ben (played by Joel Edgerton) who is a struggling musician. They make the journey to Kolkata to collect their adopted baby. However, they soon experience many bureaucratic delays and are forced to ‘wait in the city’ (see what they did there?). Soon the two reflect on their strained relationship and their motives for adopting a baby all the while being subject to the magical, spiritual and mystical powers of the Indian city which affects them both.

 

Review

I could see where the film wanted to go; the moral and spiritual reawakening of a flawed couple in a foreign land but it did fail. This is either due to the performances of the actors or their direction (perhaps both).

The audience is not given the chance to like or, at least, empathise with the protagonists. We therefore have no stake in their plight. We are introduced to a couple who, by most accounts, are odious ‘ugly’ tourists. There is too much for the audience to assume: i.e. – a high-power lawyer is married to an unemployed musician = why? What served as the attraction in the first place? We don’t see any attraction or sense of love between the two, therefore there is no real stake to whether or not their relationship remains intact in this quite stressful time.

Their characters don’t follow the script’s planned emotional and spiritual arc for the main characters. Even amongst the couple’s spiritual awakening, they seem to only turn to superficial actions of religious practice out of selfish reasons; i.e. – another means to reach their own end.

The film seems to serve as a flawed morality tale; teaching a woman the importance of life and the emotional impact experienced as a consequence of abortion.

The Waiting City seemed like a purgatory for the main couple who had to learn the errors of their ways before leaving and living a more substantial married life once back in Australia. It showed India to be a self-service one-stop-shop for religious refill and spiritual enlightenment.

That being said, the shots of India are wonderful. It seemed like the second-unit director was filming a great looking documentary to be viewed on an Imax screen. The shots are very tight, however this serves the viewpoint of the constricted view a tourist has of a new, unfamiliar foreign land.

 

Rating

It is not a good sign when you are watching a movie not only for the scenic shots, but also due to the examination of the quality of a RED camera.

1 out of 5 arms of Lord Shiva.

Edge of Darkness Review

•August 12, 2010 • Leave a Comment

 

Edge of Darkness is a 2010 film adaptation of the 1985 BBC television series of the same name which were both directed by Martin Campbell of The Mask of Zorro, Golden Eye, Casino Royale and the soon-to-be-released Green Lantern fame. If you want to reintroduce a product into a new generation of fans…………ahem………..Mel Gibson…ahem…Martin Campbell is the man to call.   

 

Plot  he film opens with Boston Detective, Thomas Craven (played by Mel Gibson) picking up his daughter Emma, from the airport who has returned home for a bit of a reprieve from her job. We soon learn that Emma is quite sick. In preparing to take his daughter to the hospital, Emma is about to tell her father something but is cut short as she becomes a victim of a violent drive-by shooting. 

Craven and his police colleagues naturally assume that he was the target. Craven’s suspicions are aroused however once he finds a pistol in her late daughter’s nightstand. Craven is soon using his detective skills to unravel the mystery that surrounds his daughter’s death, leading to wackiness that does ensue.   Review 

 Mel Gibson’s last starring role was in 2002’s Signs. Director M. Night Shyamalan apparently pulled Mel up on a lot of his acting ‘habits’. Mel took heed and time off between films to further concentrate on this advice while also continuing his directing career and, you know, his life. 

  A more demure Gibson is back in Edge of Darkness. Gone are the Riggs (and Hamlet I guess)‘crazy’ twitches and emotive characteristics, Gibson gives a grounded performance to a character that enjoys quite a subtle arc; from cautious, doting loving father to investigative detective and finally a full fledged locomotive of revenge and final judgment.  The story is a refreshingly simple conspiracy film (oxymoron perhaps), and is more about the procedural unraveling of a mystery rather than a straight-out-and-out revenge film, a la Payback.   

For me however, Mel’s private life dominates the character he plays in this film. He does his best with a Boston twang, however this seems forced and is also distracting. Perhaps this may be a technically sound accent (although I think the brothers Affleck and Mat Damon do a damn better one) but one that may have been served with an American actor and not one trying to prove that he does in fact have the tools of the trade after resting on his acting laurels for so long. Director Martin Campbell chose to base the film in Boston, Massachusetts, America, unlike the television series which was based in England. Campbell has stated that “the idea was to transfer the story to a different time and place rather than just repeat what we did in England,”. He goes on to state however that “Boston seemed like the perfect location because it does have a whole English, Irish signature on it.” This begs the question, why relocate the film at all?    

The strong Boston accent is not the best marketing strategy either, with neutral American being the norm. Unlike films that have stories grounded deep in their environments like Gone Baby Gone and The Departed, I don’t see why this story was restricted to one particular location over the other.   Rating  That all said, the film had a surprisingly grounded performance from Mel Gibson. I admit that Mel does make us feel extremely empathetic for Craven, thus elevating his character above the actor (well done Mel). The story was refreshingly straight forward; a grim conspiracy film in an age where twists and turns amongst camera shakes and over the top special effects are to be expected.  

A strong 3 gun-metal bullets out of 5.   

 

Check out the film at IMDB, and check out the trailer.

                                                                                     Luke McWilliams, August 2010  

    

Inception Review

•February 2, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Inception is a 2010 American science fiction-action film written, produced, and directed (phew!) by Christopher Nolan.

Plot

The film follows Dom Cobb (played by DiCaprio) who is an “extractor”, someone who enters the dreams of others to obtain otherwise inaccessible information. After an extraction attempt is thwarted, Cobb finds that he has been unknowingly auditioned for a new job. Instead of an ‘extraction’ however, Cobb must find a way to plant an idea into a target’s mind, an ‘inception’. Motivated by his need to end his self-imposed exile from his home country and be reunited with his children, Cobb recruits a team of dreamscape experts that will assist him in performing a successful inception in a dreamscape populated with dangerously obtrusive memories of his late wife and defence mechanisms projected as heavily armed military or get trapped in limbo trying.

Review

$100 million went into the marketing of this film, so it comes as no surprise that more people knew the film’s title Inception rather than what it was actually about. This is a mean feat when you think about internet leaks and the such. Nolan’s films to this point have enjoyed amazing marketing while also being shrouded in mystery; from the ‘viral’ strategies used in promoting The Dark Knight, to the way all and sundry seem to have Inception ‘incepted’ into their mind’s eye without really knowing how it got there in the first place.

Obviously every filmmaker’s aim is to take their one thread of consciousness and plant that into an audience members mind. In an interview with Roger Ebert in 1969, Alfred Hitchcock stated that once a script is made, it is perfect. Once shooting commences however, when one has to compromise with studios, cast and crew, one loses up to 40 per cent of their original conception and therefore, the audience receives even less of the original idea.

It is safe to say this is not the case here. The movie is written, produced and directed by Christopher Nolan. Christopher Nolan is a director who gets better with every film; not overreaching by any means, but definitely learning and adapting as he grows. From humble beginnings with nourish turns with Memento and Insomnia, to steadily learning the ropes of a bigger budget movie in Batman Begins, Nolan has earned the right and learned the way to make an intelligent, dense and visually epic film, especially from the searing success of The Dark Knight.

This of course was a deliberate move on Nolan’s part as he had worked on the script for ten years, having been told by Warner Brothers that he did not have the requisite experience to make such a film that demanded a great budget. Nolan accepted this and started heavy research into ‘lucid’ dreaming, and started to build the architecture of a dreamscape based on very real theoretical principles while learning the ropes of bigger budgeted films, taking on the Batman series. Rather then ‘selling out’, Nolan brought his talents to an otherwise dead franchise and…well, we all know what happened with The Dark Knight don’t we?. I don’t believe other Hollywood directors would have such honest insight into their own skill, M. Night Shyamalan’s self deluded turns with Lady in the Water and The Last Airbender is a glaring example. 

Inception was not by any means the slick heist film I was expecting it to be. Nolan is a fan of James Bond and this style of film has now become part of his visual palette. Again, everyone wears beautiful suits and a hell of a lot of bryl-cream, and, one may argue, there is a hint of film noir, especially when Cobb is sharing the screen with his femme fatal wife. However, the manner in which Cobb and his team ‘extract’ or ‘incept’ information is brutal and destructive: buildings explode, people get shot and all hell breaks loose should the dreamer, the one who is host to all of these cops-n-robbers, should start to wake up.

The script is extremely dense. Too much is going on at one time. Unlike The Matrix, where the audience is trained up along with the main character Neo, the audience is then allowed to follow the story once a level of required contextual and constructional knowledge is attained to appreciate the relevant rules of the narrative. Inception never lets up with its rule-book exposition and further improvised adaptation of those rules.

In a sense I would have liked to have been introduced to the film by seeing what Cobb does best, a successful, slick extraction. We are told by Cobb himself that he is the best at what he does but, within the construct of the movie, we are only privy to his failures.

On my first viewing also, I felt that the attempt to lend emotional depth to Cobb’s character adds another plot thread to an already suitably dense script; i.e. isn’t the whole point of this film the inception of an idea into an already identified target?

All of these perceived failings are, of course, deliberate. The dense script shows great respect for the audience, being an event that an audience member thinks about after the movie, chews on it, discusses it and then gets hits between the eyes with it. Such structural skills also introduces another layer to the film itself: we have seen the idea of unreliable narrator/s (Rashomon, Hero, The Usual Suspects) but now, in the tradition of Hitchcock, we have master unreliable director ( as he has done with Memento, The Prestige). Meta films / dreams come into play, and, in places, all at once.

This is a genius tightly woven script. With respect to audience member’s interpretations of the film (the internet is alive with them) I believe that the film is not ambiguous at all: Nolan so far has demonstrated that he is an extremely literal writer and director. His dreamscape is not surreal by any means: everything you need to know to come to a conclusion of his films (The Prestige, The Dark Knight) are evidenced in the film itself. Inception is dense with logic based rules that, once understood, reveal the true meaning and nature of the film.

Watch this on the big screen to fully experience the visual representation of a world constructed on tight principles (represented by dense, straightforward architecture like The Matrix, Dark City and The Dark Knight) which looks absolutely amazing; Photorealistic computer graphic cityscapes which find the laws of physics to be amazingly relative accompanied by the bombastic score of Hans Zimmer. A fantastic cinema experience. 

Rating

4 skyscrapers out of 5, only because I know Nolan is going to come out with a more accomplished film every time he makes one. So far, my favorite director this side of Hitchcock (script over character forgiven for both).

For those who have seen Inception and need a rough guide as to the rules of the land, check out this expert manual courtesy of Liam.

Check out the film at IMDB, see what David and Margaret have to say and watch the trailer!

Luke McWilliams, August 2010