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Friday, September 30, 2011

Reviews Coming Soon

The Ides of March

Moneyball Review

Moneyball Review
2011, 133 minutes
Rated PG-13 for some strong language

Moneyball is the first film in six years from director Bennett Miller (Oscar-nominated director of the outstanding 2005 film, Capote), and it is one hell of a return.  This film stars Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill as two men who revolutionize baseball and save a failing team by breaking the two down into a mathematical equation and the success they achieve from it.  Moneyball works for so many reasons, first and foremost being Brad Pitt in one of the best performances of his career.  Pitt, an actor who has played many various and assorted characters ranging from a mental hospital patient to a spy married to another spy to Jesse James.  In every role he plays, he brings a certain charm and energy into the role which makes him extremely likable.  His charismatic air and ease in role always makes me curious as to how he will pull off his next role.  Of the actors in Hollywood that flood the tabloids, Pitt is the best.  And Moneyball is no exception to his fascinating career.   Working from an excellent script from Oscar-winners Steven Zallian (Schindler's List) and Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network), Pitt delivers the rapid-fire banter effortlessly.  As Billy Beane, the Oakland A's general manager, Pitt fleshes him out to make him a real person.  In one scene you see him trading players breathlessly over the phone, and in another, you see him listening to his daughter play music for him with a loving and caring look in his eyes.  In short, there are few male lead performances this year that can match Pitt's.  The only one that was more impressive was Dominic Cooper's in The Devil's Double.  
Great as Pitt was, Jonah Hill holds his own quite well playing Beane's assistant who creates the formulas that Beane uses to pick players most likely to succeed on his team.  The best moments in the film occur when he is conversing with Pitt, with the two throwing witticisms back and forth.  Hill, like Pitt, has a natural ease in this film and is an absolute pleasure to watch.  
Sorkin and Zallian's script is flat-out electrifying.  They do not focus on the game of baseball as much as the behind-the-scenes work which is a breath of fresh air considering that every other sports film focuses on the "inspirational true story" that has everyone on their feet clapping by the end.  As mentioned before, the dialogue that these two brilliant writers give their actors is ingenious and keeps the laughs coming.  They do not overplay the situations, giving the film a low-key feel.  The back-and-forth exchanges between Pitt and Hill are similar to the one between Jesse Eisenberg and Rooney Mara at the beginning of The Social Network.  With words thrown back and forth like tennis volleys, the viewer is on the edge of their seat every step of the way trying to keep up with the pace.  In one word, brilliant.
Though the acting and script were phenomenal, I did have one slight problem: the pacing.  Though the final forty minutes were some of the best that I've seen this entire year, there is a chunk in the first part that moves a little too slowly.  However, do not let me discourage you from seeing the movie with that criticism.  If you do not see it because of reading that, you are making a grave mistake.
In total, Moneyball is one of the year's best films so far.  If you go see the film for nothing but Pitt, that will be enough.  He's that good.  If you see this film, you will be delighted to find a witty, fun, and enlightening film to take your teens/sports fans to that will have you talking long after the credits roll.

-Joshua Handler

Friday, September 16, 2011

Drive Review

Drive Review
2011, 100 minutes
Rated R for strong brutal bloody violence, language, and some nudity

Starring Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan, Drive is, simply put, a work of cinematic art.  It is also the best picture of the year so far along with Tabloid.  What do these two films have in common?  They are both indie films.  And Drive shows what a great director and cast can do with the action genre indie-style.  Everything from the lighting, music (from Cliff Martinez, a name to look out for as he also did Contagion's music which was very different and original), and the camerawork is near perfect.  Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn (Cannes Best Director Winner) does a great job finding the right approach with the material.  He goes for a minimalistic style, which fits the material and Gosling's performance like a glove. 
Ryan Gosling, in another fantastic performance, plays The Driver to minimal and maximum effect.  He says (and everyone else for that matter) very few words, but the viewer knows what is going on inside him due to his facial expressions.  When conversing with Irene (Mulligan), a woman with whom he has fallen in love with, he does not say much, but we can see the love and happiness (two emotions rarely shown by The Driver in this film) flowing through him as a little smile appears on his face. 
Gosling, an actor who has shown his range of talent in films such as Lars and the Real Girl, Half Nelson, Crazy, Stupid, Love, and Blue Valentine (my #2 favorite film of 2010), demonstrates that he can still do more than already shown with The Driver.  I’m quite glad to see that he is catching on with audiences as he has had at least three film releases this year (Crazy, Stupid, Love, The Ides of March, and Drive).
Refn, a director known for his violent arthouse films, Valhalla Rising and Bronson proves that he is a director to watch out for.  In this film, he goes for lighting that evokes the softness of classic Hollywood noir and the colors of modern-day L.A.  He films everything with grace.  The action scenes, many of which are in slow motion, are extraordinarily shot and have enormous tension built up before exploding. 
Cliff Martinez’s score has a very electric feel to it along with a string of ‘80s europop songs.  These songs give the film a very European feel which suits the sleekness of the film wonderfully.  His original compositions are very simple, but convey the mood and rising tension of each scene.  They are electric and alive and greatly add to the film as a whole.
Drive’s action scenes, though few, are insanely intense due to the fact that they are very naturalistic (no blasting music, gunshots, or explosions).  One never knows when someone will be killed or seriously maimed.  Something could happen out of nowhere.  These scenes (as mentioned before) are mostly in slow motion, an effect that if overused (as in Watchmen) can become melodramatic, but if used right, as in this film can add to the overall effect.  One gets to savor the action and gets to really feel and see the savagery and violence being shown.  Though brutal, Drive’s violence feels natural as it just happens as a part of the story and no big deal is made.  The slow motion adds to the naturalistic effect as you see everything unfold as in a ballet.  One gunshot here, another there gracefully and slowly hitting the target, and then it is over.  Michael Bay needs to take a hint from Refn.
Overall, Drive is a masterpiece of modern cinema, but be warned, this film is not going to be for everyone as it essentially an arthouse film and does not have a lot of action or dialogue (as mentioned before).  It is also the most violent film (aside from The Devil's Double) that I have seen that has come out in 2011.  If you are up for a film such as this, by all means, go see it!

-Joshua Handler

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Point Blank Review

Point Blank Review
2011, 84 minutes
Rated R for strong violence and language

Point Blank is a French action-thriller directed by Fred CavayĆ© and is 84 minutes of pure action.  Now, many films go wrong by making the film all about the action and not about the characters, but this lean, mean film is stronger and better than just about every action movie that has come out in past few months because it balances the story, characters, and action.  Point Blank is about an innocent man who goes on a hunt for his wife's kidnappers and uncovers secrets and conspiracies.  The premise for the film is pretty generic, but everything else completely makes up for it; the strongest of these being the fantastic acting by Gilles Lellouche, Elana Anaya, and Roschdy Zem.  
These three actors do a phenomenal job at making their characters come alive and not leaving them to be generic, one-dimensional characters.  They fill their roles with emotion.  Lellouche and Anaya play a couple in the film and have completely believable chemistry.  They look like ordinary people and look like friendly, normal, relatable people that you would find on the street.  In the film when they are in peril, we root for them every step of the way.  Towards the end of the film, there is an especially tense scene in which I was on the edge of my seat gripping the armrest in the theater.  This scene involved one of the main characters and seeing them in peril made me uncomfortable because I liked them so much.
The action in this film was nothing to laugh off either as it was well-filmed and appropriate as in it happened at the right time.  Action is a hard thing to film nowadays as movies keep becoming more and more generic as they try to be more and more elaborate.  In this film, the action filming is nothing special, but that is why it works.  The director didn't try too hard.  He doesn't go for the Michael Bay-all-out-action style, he uses no "shaky camera" style, and he keeps the camera in a place where the audience can discern what is going on.  This simplicity made the action thrilling.
Overall, Point Blank is one hell of an action movie that kept me interested and entertained.  Go see this if you can find it at one of your local theaters.  You won't be disappointed.

-Joshua Handler