Posts Tagged ‘Film Reviews!’

Film Reviews!: I Love You Phillip Morris

January 7, 2011

I Love You Phillip Morris is so good it’s hard to remember what type of movie you are watching.  That isn’t some hyperbolic statement intended to garner curiosity or to make the author (moi) seem wiser than reality would hold true, one actually comes away from Phillip Morris in such awe of the story just told that it merits a reminder that what the audience just viewed was a comedy.  A fabulous, fully-functioning comedy, but a comedy, nonetheless.

Based on a fantastical, too-good-to-be-true story, Phillip Morris revolves around a con-man’s (Carrey) life as he continually commits insurance fraud, breaks out of jail, and pursues the man he is so wildly in love with, the titular Phillip Morris (McGregor).  Carrey and McGregor fill the screen so fully throughout the entirety of this movie that there is hardly any room for anyone else onscreen.  And the amazing outcome is that it absolutely works.  Spending over 100 minutes with the hyper-dynamic couple of McGregor and Carrey is not only feasible, it’s preferred.  Short of a select few incredibly minute supporting roles that do help to push the story along, McGregor and Carrey’s frenetic entanglement of a relationship and life together creates an environment so perfect and exciting that you need nothing more than their own excellent camerawork.

Carrey and McGregor’s performances truly are what make this endeavor the brilliant outing that it is.  Not only do they perfectly capture the comedic timing and comical minutiae that make the story work so well, they also manage to create two entirely lovable, relateable characters, also.  Carrey brings Steven Russell to life with relative ease while Ewan McGregor makes a Morris into an equally versed, yet fragile romantic foil for Carrey’s Russell.  One of the biggest accomplishments of the stars (and certainly the screenwriters as well) is their ability to produce a comedy about a homosexual love affair in prison without once making the relationship feel cheap, trite, or cliche.  While the entire movie is incredibly funny, it never gives in to any cheap material about homosexuality or even the gay community, at large.  The story evolves at the perfect pace and never has any need or space to fit any banal, pedestrian humor about the couple’s sexual orientation into the grand scheme of things.  Instead, the couple feels absolutely fitting as the hectic world that they have built around themselves speeds by them.  Carrey and McGregor are adorable together and have you rooting for them as a team from the very get-go.  The chemistry that they share and the duo that they so quickly become is what gives the film such an intense feeling of charm, without which the movie would certainly be lost.

The score and cinematography both ring true to the story at hand and guide everything along to create the perfect atmosphere for Carrey and McGregor’s basically two-man show.  The true masterpiece of Phillip Morris‘ technical expertise, however, is the script.  The writing team of Glenn Ficarra and John Requa have created an airtight screenplay that never lingers or moves too expediently.  Instead, Ficarra and Requa’s screenplay moves at just the right pace to pack year’s worth of action into a movie under two hours leaving you wanting more while simultaneously tying up each and every possible loose end or tangential piece of the narrative.  And while it would be easy to credit the story’s perfect pacing to the original book it was based off of, that simply is not the case.  What Ficarra and Requa have accomplished is a story perfectly, succinctly, and genuinely told in the language of the cinema.  Their story fully utilizes the cinematic medium, utilizing brilliant quick cuts, and edits to bring everything together.  One of the best moments of the film occurs while the camera lingers on Carrey and McGregor, slow dancing in their cells while their neighbor cellmate gets beaten, offscreen, by a battalion of cops to beautiful music.  It is an absolutely brilliant moment that is perfectly encapsulated through the meeting of imagery and sound.  Something that the pages of a book simply cannot deliver.

I started this review out by stating that Phillip Morris makes the audience forget the type of movie they’re watching.  While true that the audience may forget, I want to clarify that the movie itself NEVER forgets.  I Love You Phillip Morris never stops succeeding as a superior comedy, it just ALSO succeeds as a genuine film.  Phillip Morris is funny, touching, passionate, fulfilling, exciting, and extremely well put-together.  Great acting and great writing come together to tell a great story in one of the best entries of 2010.

Score/Soundtrack:  70/100

Performance/Direction:  94/100

Script:  93/100

Cinematography/Aesthetics:  82/100

Overall:  90/100

Film Reviews!: Never Let Me Go

October 28, 2010

The next time that you find yourself in the middle of a movie, knowing EXACTLY what’s going to happen next and the exact beats that the screenwriter is cultivating to get you there, just take solace in the fact that every so often we are given a movie like Never Let Me Go.  I went into this screening knowing nothing at all about the movie beforehand.  I had abstained from trailers, internet gossip, the whole nine yards.  I knew that the movie was primarily produced in the UK and nothing in this movie relishes in that of standard conventions.

Mark Romanek is given the helm as director and this work marks his third foray into full-length feature films.  The hallmark of Romanek’s work is that it always manages to invoke a sort of gritty, heartless, almost cruel realism that few directors have the capacity to engineer in their productions.  One hour Photo, shot in 2002 and starring Robin Williams, is a perfect example of Romanek’s style and how he manages to make the film’s aesthetics as central to the story as the script itself.  Known primarily for his expansive music video catalog, however, further examples of Romanek’s creative touch as it transcends mood and tone are best referenced in Weezer’s El Scorcho,  Fiona Apple’s Criminal, and Johnny Cash’s Hurt.  His incredible eye for detail and attention to not only the undertones of the story, but the overtones and all the tones in the middle, are what guides the images he captures to broadcast such a heightened sense of understanding.  Romanek truly knows how to tell a story through images and an overall aesthetic, which is exactly how Never Let Me Go manages to accomplish so much with so little in terms of production or back story.

One of the greatest accomplishments of this film (and there are many) is it’s ability to instill an overall sense of dread and hopelessness in the audience. And while many movies have the capacity to instill an audience with the equivalent mood to collaborate with the tone of their film, few flicks do so in such a masterful way as Never Let Me Go.  For it’s not the story that creates such an ethereal sense of abandon in the audience (though the story IS quite bleak), nor the dialogue or the superb writing.  The unending tone of dismay that Never Let Me Go so successfully conveys is explicitly broadcast through the heartlessness and futility found in the day-to-day lives of the movies characters, and of the film’s alternate world’s atmosphere that it has completely fabricated.  Fair warning, a bit of background into the film’s plot and some spoilers will be required to further flesh out my analysis.

Never Let Me Go follows the lives of three clones in an alternate version of Britain in which, as early as the mid-sixties, clones were regularly grown and harvested for their organs.  The story follows this love triangle of clones as they are brought up in an orphanage through their adolescence and  into their adulthood as they begin to be harvested for their organs (clones are kept alive for as many as up to three ‘donations’ on average).  The story isn’t about rebellion.  It’s not even about passive resistance, or really any kind of resistance at all.  The characters make a single attempt at preventing their own demise only to be told calmly, cooly, and in a warm, open environment that there is no such thing as a delay or an extension on life.  Once your number is called, it’s called.  So, while the characters do eventually have a mental break down, they never actually attempt to escape the fate that is bestowed upon them.  This, amongst multiple other tonal impressions, is how the inescapable sense of despairing fate envelopes the entire film and manages to drape itself over the audience, by proxy.

And this overbearing sense of dismal loss and submission does so much more than simply play into the movie’s central theme.  It helps to elaborate on the symbolism and specific messages that the film looks to project in its alternative universe.  For example, despite the fact that the characters in Romanek’s most recent endeavor have roughly half the life-span of most people, they still experience the exact same trials and tribulations, still wrestle with the same concepts of life’s futility, of love lost and unrequited, and dealing with reality as you are confined to it.  The characters in Never Let Me Go blindly accept the life they have been born into with little to no grievances, much as most do.  The story, based on the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, works as a beautiful metaphor for the short lease we all have on life, and the way most of us waste our lives striving for mundane things or blindly accepting our fate.  Had the main characters in the story ever ventured out farther than an occasional trek into town or if they had even questioned things more than once, perhaps they could have escaped the early deaths that awaited them.

Finally, it needs to be noted that the acting and directing in Never Let Me Go help to translate the story beautifully, as well, with Kiera Knightly playing one of the most unlikeable-yet-understandable, conniving characters in recent memory.  Her portrayal of the back-stabbing Ruth rings so true as one of her sole motivations in life is to keep from being lonely.  Andrew Garfield continually reminds me why I am excited for the Spider-Man reboot, with his calm and impassioned portrayal of Tommy.  And Carey Mulligan easily gives the strongest performance of the film as the demure and complacent Kathy.  It’s certainly worth noting, as well, that the child actors in this film put on excellent performances, in addition to the star-power inherent in Mulligan, Garfield, and Knightly.

Never Let Me Go’s expert discussion of some of the most existential, overarching concepts in humanity makes it a textual masterpiece that comes alive through Romanek’s exquisite ability to create an entire universe through tone and atmosphere.  Without wasting a minute of screen time and without adding any superfluous content, which, in effect, usually ends up taking away from the original story, Romanek  and screenwriter Alex Garland paint a beautiful, haunting, and discouraging portrait of how often life is wasted on complacency and fear.

Performances: 92/100

Cinematography/Aesthetics: 85/100

Score: 67/100

Script: 88/100

Final: 81/100

Film Reviews!: Let Me In

October 8, 2010

Despite the fact that I am an unabashed opponent of 90% of all remakes done in cinema, there is occasionally an actual, valid excuse for producing one.  Whether time has lapsed and a story of yesteryear feels as though it can benefit from being reincarnated in the present pop-culture landscape (Ocean’s Eleven), or a director has been saving a passion project for years that he feels can only be served best by his own, personal spin on the tale (The Fly), there are reasonable means for endeavoring a remake of a production.  Unfortunately, Let Me In does not contain a single one of them. 

Let Me In is an American remake of the Swedish film entitled Let the Right One In, which was an adaptation of the Swedish novel of the same name.  The best way one can describe the original is as the most dark, disturbing, and grotesque, yet PASSIONATE love story you will ever see.  The production is so smooth and engrossing, you don’t even realize the severity of the stakes and the absurdity of the entire nature of the story until long after you’ve left the theatre.  In the most succinct, secretive nutshell that I can keep it, a scrawny little boy, Oskar, befriends a young girl, Eli, who recently moved into the apartment across the hall from him.  She is shrouded in awkward secrecy and her only relative appears to be her much older father.  Throughout his blossoming relationship with Eli, Oskar comes to stand up for himself and learns to choose his own path in life, in regards to love, self-fulfillment, and destiny.

The story is fantastic and is further bolstered by the overall mood, tone, and acting styles of the cast involved.  An overbearing, depressing schematic is draped over the entirety of the production, making all the little beats of magic and wonder that coalesce between the two, young lovers all the more enchanting.  There is nary a negative word to be said about the picture, other than the fact that it tries to bite off a bit more than it can chew from the novel (Pun quota: filled).  However, one obvious detriment to the film’s success (not detriment to the actual film itself, mind you, but detriment to its financial SUCCESS) is that it was produced in Swedish with English subtitles.  Heaven forbid.

Flash forward to two, yes, I said TWO, years later when American director Matt Reeves decided to remake this literary adaptation for obvious reasons…obvious reasons, like…like the fact that the original isn’t in English…and that the original requires non-Swedish speakers…to read…Le Sigh.  While a bit snarky (believe it or not, ladies and gentlemen, I CAN be snarky) it’s the honest truth.  Reeves’ remake is an admitted (Reeves has been quoted numerous times on his desire to ‘retain’ quintessential aspects of the film, “So my intention was to take the story and to, as much as possible, honor that story and tell it but in an American context.” (Bloody Disgusting interview)) almost-shot-for-shot rediscovery of the original which is an astounding TWO years old.  While I never condone ABSOLUTE, shot-for-shot recreations of past works (what, honestly then, is the point?), I will acquiesce that I would at least be able to see the merit in recreating an absolute classic shot-for-shot if it was decades old and the crew felt as though modern-day technology could truly benefit the new production.  This, however, is simply not the case in the example of Let Me In.  Modern cinematic techniques have SURELY not so-greatly surpassed those of the ancient era of 2008.  In fact, parts of this remake feel technically clunkier than it’s former.  The CGI in almost every scene that’s laden with it feels completely out-of-place and off the mark.  Rather than letting the film marinate in the simplicity and natural ebb and flow of the reality it has set up, just as the original did, Let Me In forcefully inserts scenes comprised primarily of CGI and effects that simply make the entire production come to a screeching halt.  In one of the first scenes in which we find out just WHAT Eli is (or Abby, in the American version, which is something else that will be discussed in a minute) the tone, the feel, and the entire gravitas of the film as a whole becomes completely stunted as what was a beautifully-paced production takes an immediate right turn and begins to jerk the audience around in what can only best be described as a cheap thrill-scare.  Further, every time that Eli’s ‘secret’ is expounded upon from that point forward (I’m doing my best to not uncover any full-on spoilers in this review, I feel like I can successfully vivisect this movie without ruining the first) some form of awful CG or some equally garish effect is utilized that feels completely anachronistic to the rest of the story’s flow.   It’s as though the studio saw the gorgeously crafted Swedish version and said “While we obviously HAVE to change this movie into English, another added improvement would be making it more DYNAMIC!  YEAH!  Why does everything have to be so blase and pouty?  ‘Boo hoo, I’m a little weak boy with no friends!’  We need more action, more epicness, more LEAPING!!!”  And that’s the stuff Hollywood failures are made out of.

All those past indiscretions aside, the few liberties that Reeves’ does take with his remake just act as glaring reminders as to how much better the original is and how frivolous this entire escapade was to begin with.  The few things that have literally been changed for American audiences are that the main characters names have been changed from Oskar to Owen, and Eli to Abby, and the story now takes place in Los Almos, New Mexico rather than Stockholm, Sweden.  That, my friends, is basically it.  There is nothing else to it.  And once you watch the two films back-to-back and realize that other than those facts, very little has been changed, you become very, very angry.

My largest arguments are not that the film, in and of itself, is bad.  It certainly is not.  Taking almost the ENTIRETY of its cues from its excellent Swedish source material, Reeves’ adaptation comes out as a fairly beautiful portrayal.  The acting is actually quite good in most areas (though not as strong as the original…I’m not gonna let this go) and the overall tone, pacing, and feel, when not broken up by unnecessary, ridiculous effects, is kept intact.  Additionally, there is one plot element that is left out of the American version that actually feels warranted, not because it doesn’t work, but because time simply does not permit its involvement (if I go any further, we will be in spoiler country, so I’ll just say that it deals with gender).  The film, overall, is ‘good.’  But the question that keeps plaguing me is how in the world ‘good’ merited a $20 million remake two years after the fact.  The subtleties and changes of the flick are so minute and redundant when aligned with the original that it hardly deserves the cash that it has been attributed.  What I’ve been wrestling with since this project was announced, was how something as trite as this was allowed to be produced when that $20 million (which I’m sure doesn’t take into account Prints and Advertising) could have been so much better allotted to either another lower budget, ORIGINAL flick, two VERY low budget flicks, or ten SUPER-LOW budget mumblecore movies.  In the grand scheme of things it’s all very disheartening, and I think I can sum it up perfectly with a direct quote from one of the producers of Hammer Films, one of the partners of the production studio responsible for the American version.  When asked by Fearnet.com what Matt Reeves was bringing to the table in terms of his adaptation of the film, Chief Simon Oakes spewed that:

I think the original is fascinating in its exposition, but at the same time there is a doggerel element to it in terms of the mood and setting. So I think it takes it out into a more accessible setting. I think perhaps there is a little more characterization in terms of the two central characters. To be perfectly frank with you, this is making an astonishing story – which however hard you might try or I might try to get people to go see the original, they’re never going to do it – more accessible to a much larger audience. I think perhaps, again, the roughness of the original is great – and when I talk about faithful, I don’t want to put words in Matt’s mouth, because he is the creative filmmaker here, and we very much protect that with our directors – but I think it’ll just have perhaps a little sheen to it that makes it a little more accessible I think.

So the ADMITTED intention of the production company of this film is to make the film more ‘accessible’ to a ‘wider’ audience.  They wanted to give it a ‘sheen’ so as to clean up the ‘roughness’ of the original.  And people wonder why I have so much hatred and cynicism towards the mainstream.

Performances: 78/100

Cinematography/Aesthetics: 62/100

Score: 68/100

Script: 80/100

Final: 78/100

P.S.  I realize that after that scathing review I am giving the film an incredibly high score.  This is because I disagreed with the film FUNDAMENTALLY, however, as a film, most of the technical aspects are still pretty tight, especially since it takes so much from the original which I would give an even HIGHER score.  Le sigh.