TCFF 2014 Day 3 Reviews: These Hopeless Savages, 3 Nights in the Desert, The Well and House of Manson

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The festivities continues at Twin Cities Film Fest! Weekends are always super busy at the Showplace ICON Theatres at the West End, but even more so with all the hustle and bustle of the TCFF crowds. A bunch of Midwest Premieres took place last night, featuring Q&A following films such as These Hopeless Savages, Old Fashioned, BFFs, The Well, and a huge cast & crew in attendance for the first of two sold out screening of House of Manson.


The second screening of House of Manson on Monday night at 9:30pm is already SOLD OUT … but, no fret, TCFF will have a RUSH LINE available for every “sold out” screening. We typically are able to accommodate anyone waiting in line. So, before you decide not to come, please do consider the Rush Line! The Rush Line is located across from the TCFF Offices on the Main Level of the Shops at West End, right below the theater lobby.


Now here are the reviews from Day 3…

These Hopeless Savages

Similar to Alexander Payne’s Nebraska (2013), These Hopeless Savages is a road movie doubling as a relationship drama. In this case, the focus is on Shawn (co-director/co-producer/co-writer/star Sean Christopher Lewis) and Greg (co-writer/star Matt Delapina), childhood friends who have lost touch over the years. Shawn believes he’s won $50,000, which he can claim by traveling from New York to Iowa, and he wants Greg’s help. Though Greg doubts the money’s authenticity, he agrees, for personal reasons, and the two embark in Shawn’s sedan. These Hopeless Savages documents their cross-country journey, along which they encounter several eccentric characters.

In so doing, the film is often funny, particularly in scene’s including Greg’s girlfriend, Nicki (Mackenzi Meehan). Meehan’s deadpan delivery and her chemistry with Delapina are both striking, indeed so much so that she is the film’s greatest merit. Which is saying something, because the cast is universally strong. The picture’s visual style is impressive, as well; directors Kaitlyn Busbee and Lewis use minimalist camera movements and wide image frames to create a realistic tone, one which helps push forward the plot.

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Unfortunately, These Hopeless Savages stumbles at various points. First, we never understand why Shawn believes the $50,000 actually exists. Unlike Nebraska’s Woody, Shawn’s mental faculties are not deteriorating, so what gives him such confidence? It helps that Lewis and Delapina, as writers, hint, at various points, that the money isn’t Shawn’s actual motivation, but the idea is undercooked and then contradicted when the protagonists reach their destination. Moreover, neither of these characters change. They start emotionally damaged, and they end that way. They start with particular character flaws, and they end with the same. Their stories feel unfinished, even in a picture less about individuals than relationships.

For all of that, These Hopeless Savages has enough humor, good acting and quality directing to make it immersive and entertaining. It is far from great, but it is also far from bad.   

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The Well

Though too predictable and too faithful to genre, The Well, is filled with enchanting cinematography and even more atmospheric intensity. The picture, which is written by Jacob Forman and director Thomas S. Hammock, depicts an apocalyptic world fatally short on water. Living in this world is Kendal (Haley Lu Richardson, excellent), who struggles to rebuild an airplane while simultaneously caring for her ill childhood friend, Dean (Booboo Stewart, even better than Richardson) and a youth named Alby (Max Charles, underused), whom she’s found living alone. She must also fend off many rivals, some of them in search of water, and some of them employees of a nefarious company.

In part because of the actor playing her, Kendal makes a compelling protagonist, but she is not the most interesting character here. That is the primary villain, Carson (played empathetically by Jon Gries), who is layered by love for his daughter, Brooke (Nicole Fox) and remorse. When Carson and Kendal finally speak to each other, it is a riveting scene, indeed, one that rewards the viewer with fascinating dialogue between two multi-dimensional characters.

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Hammock’s visuals are just as rewarding, as is his ability to create tension, both through audio and image frames. At times, The Well’s obviously low budget hurts the picture, especially when Hammock uses CGI to create blood or fire, but mostly the director overcomes financial limitations.

A handful of exposition-heavy scenes between Carson and Brooke prove bigger flaws. As does Brooke’s characterization. She is so underdeveloped as to be almost senseless. Finally, during what should be the film’s most impacting moments, Kendal successfully hides from her enemies, but only because Carson doesn’t follow previous patterns of behavior. In another should-be-impacting sequence Kendal behaves differently than she has before. These moments border on character breaking, and thereby disengage the viewer, at least for a time.

Still, The Well succeeds far more than it fails. It deserves a recommendation.

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Check out FlixChatter’s exclusive interview w/ Haley Lu Richardson as she discussed getting her part in her feature film debut, and the challenges of filming The Well.


3 Nights in the Desert 

A middling drama about old friends/bandmates reuniting after several years without contact, 3 Nights in the Desert neither impresses nor offends. It simply exists.

Tax attorney Barry (Vincent Piazza) and musician Anna (Amber Tamblyn) travel to the California desert, where their defunct band’s former guitarist, Travis (Wes Bentley), now lives. Ostensibly the three are fulfilling a long-ago promise to collectively celebrate their thirtieth birthdays, but Travis has a manipulative motive, Anna has personal issues never fully explained, and Barry doesn’t want to admit he pines for the past, even while he also rages at it.

All three actors do well with what they’re given, especially Tamblyn, who makes an underdeveloped character feel almost real. Unfortunately, writer Adam Chanzit and director Gabriel Cowan don’t give them much. First, the characters are sketches, not multi-dimensional figures. Second, the plot is boilerplate, offering a standard love-triangle, and equally standard reflection on idealism versus pragmatism. Some forced symbolism and a repeated metaphor (a supposedly mystical cave) don’t help either.

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Yet, 3 Nights in the Desert isn’t bad. Sure the opening voice over explains relationship dynamics Chanzit and Cowan would have been wise to show us, and sure nothing here surprises or enlightens, but the actors still capture attention, the occasional music is quite good, and the picture’s pacing (a run time just over eighty minutes) is crisp enough to ensure the narrative never grows stale. Plus, the director and his crew skillfully photograph some gorgeous California scenery.

In the end, do I recommend 3 Nights in the Desert? Not really. But it needn’t be avoided either.

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House of Manson 

House of Manson is a film that chronicles the life of Charles Manson and focuses in on the events leading up to and including the Sharon Tate murders of 1969. Unlike other Charles Manson biopics that focus in on the sex or the over the top nature of the Tate murder, this one focuses in Charles Manson’s influence and connection with his followers, the Manson family as they call themselves.

Charles Manson is portrayed by Minnesota born actor Ryan Kiser, who returns for the second year in a row to Twin Cities Film Fest. Last year Kiser co-starred in the horror film Truth or Dare and this year he brings the fest the world premiere of House of Manson. Kiser approached the character in a very serious tone and does a fantastic job conveying the crazy yet brilliant way Charles Manson was able to draw followers into his cult.

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Devanny Pinn co-stars as one of Manson’s followers Susan Atkins and gives a chilling performance as her screen presence is freaky. Pinn truly becomes Atkins on screen as the facial reactions make you think this women is completely off her rocker and has no moral compass at all.  An overall amazing performance by Pinn.

This film does suffer from some technical flaws as the sound isn’t completely smoothed and could use some more attention by a sound mixer. The filmmakers even admitted in a Q&A following the world premiere that some of the sound transitions were going to need to be looked at. The film also has a saturated look that doesn’t look completely intentional. The image doesn’t pop off the screen as some movies do that have a more crisp and sharp look to it.

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Overall, the film is a great portrayal of the events surrounding the infamous Charles Manson. It doesn’t get too crude or violent as previous films about the same subject matter, it takes the source material as it is and conveys the story in a very tasteful matter. With a great cast and direction by Brandon Slagle, House of Manson is definitely worth checking out when it later finds distribution.

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Stay tuned for reviews from Day 4!


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Individual tickets are on sale now at twincitiesfilmfest.org


Have you seen any of these films? What did you think?

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TCFF 2014 Day 2 Reviews: Father-Like Son, The Last Time You Had Fun, V/H/S: Viral

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Day 3 is nearly gone and I just finally got a chance to put something together for the blog! It’s quite a whirlwind day for me today. I had a prior commitment in the AM in St. Cloud but we somehow made it back in time for the Actors Panel, one of the educational panels that I always look forward to every year. This year we’ve got three awesome guests whose films are playing tonight: Sean Maher (BFFs), Haley Lu Richardson (The Well) and Ryan Kiser (House of Manson). The panel was moderated by actress Marisa Coughlan (Super Troopers, Space Station 76). It was quite an insightful event as you learn how they got into show business, and the high/low of being an actor, etc.


And here are the reviews from Day 2…

Father-Like Son

Let’s just say the script in “Father-Like Son” doesn’t beat around the bushes. Written by and starring Mac Alsfeld and Andrew Megison and featuring Alsfeld in his directorial debut, it tells the story of Clark, a 24 year old wannabe writer living at home with his widowed mother and her new husband Dan, who happens to be Clark’s age but nonetheless aspires to be a father figure to Clark.

The first line in the movie is Dan popping into Clark’s room - “Hey there dude, you got any condoms I can borrow? Your mother claims to have had a hysterectomy but I don’t buy all that science fiction bull.” And the movie goes downhill from there, resulting in an endless stream of immature, unfunny jokes.

(About 20 minutes into this movie I started thinking, “This is like The Hangover. Except not funny.”) Another scene involves Dan, a self-proclaimed “inventor,” showing off his latest creation – the Okey Dookey, a poop-shaped plastic toy you can hide a key in.

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A subplot involves Clark getting a job in a used bookstore, where we meet fellow employee Emily (Molly Canarro) and Peaches (Peaches Davis), the little old lady who owns the place. Emily’s feisty retorts playing off Peaches’s sweet charm were a breath of fresh air. The movie attempts to turn maudlin toward the end with Clark struggling to come to terms with his father’s death but it was hard to care at that point after a mind numbing parade of juvenile man jokes. (To get back at Dan, one of Clark’s friends suggests that he cut up his dog and leave body parts all over the house.)

It is shows like this that remind me of what critics sometimes say if they really don’t want people to waste their time: I watch these movies so you don’t have to. I understand that I am not the target audience for this kind of show but in my opinion I would suggest you pick another movie to enjoy at the Twin Cities Film Fest.

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The Last Time You Had Fun

Story takes place in a single night, mostly in a limo rented by a guy named Will (Demetri Martin), supposedly to celebrate his college buddy Clark’s (Kyle Bornheimer) divorce. These two buddies can’t be more different from each other, even from the way they’re dressed. Will is a preppy lawyer and Clark is a teacher can’t seem to get out of his sweatpants. As we later learned, Clark’s divorce left him for another woman. Because of his friend’s persistence and his young kids’ insistence that he needs to get out of the house once in a while, Clark reluctantly agrees to go, so long as there’s no strip club involved. They ended up at a wine bar, Clark’s pick, and there they run into two sisters. Will dares Clark to pick up those women and he only agrees to do it just so he could go home.

The foursome end up hanging out together in the bar and later share a limo going as aimlessly as they go about their own lives. The two sisters are Alison (Mary Elizabeth Ellis), who appears to be the sensible one, married with a young daughter. She’s always patient to lend an ear to the drama queen of a sister Ida (Eliza Coupe), who’s in the middle of a nasty divorce.

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As the title says, most of the characters can’t seem to remember when was the last time they had fun. The bickering between four dysfunctional adults are comical in their honesty about how they feel about themselves and each other. Everyone’s got issues, one seems more messed up than the other. As the night wears on, more layers of their personality is peeled off as inhibitions slowly diminish. In fact, they go more restless, bolder and crazier, much to the chagrin of the snappy limo driver (Charlyne Yi) who have to put up with their shenanigans. One of the funniest scenes is when they try to get some weed, resulting in the most bizarre scenario of the entire film. Character actor Jimmi Simpson has one of those faces you recognize in a bunch of films/TV series. The sexual experiment scenario is played mostly for laughs but yet it’s not a throwaway scene as it’s in keeping with the adventurous theme of the story.

The film’s tiny budget shows in the production quality, but the honest, funny and engaging dialog and naturalistic performances from the entire cast make up for it. The two male actors fare slightly better IMO, you can’t help but root for them despite their flaws. There are some slow parts and some of the dialog seem clunky to me, but overall I think Mo Perkins‘ sophomore effort is a pretty good one. I like how the script by Hal Haberman plays with our perceptions/prejudices of the characters as they don’t always behave in the way they predict they would.

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V/H/S: Viral

V/H/S: Viral is the third movie in the V/H/S series that was started in 2012. The V/H/S movies are anthology films made with mostly found footage films that are edited to play together with an overarching plot that sort of works at connecting them all to play after each other. The previous two installments (V/H/S and V/H/S 2) were very enjoyable in their concept and new takes on found footage through the use of spy glasses cam and GoPro cams.

This time, the overarching plot that is seen between each short film, entitled “Vicious Circles”, is about a man on chasing his girlfriend who has been kidnapped by an ice cream truck which is also being chased by the police. This short that is broken up over the length of the film is quite good at showing the environment on how the entire city is on alert and watching this police chase.  Of the three V/H/S films this overarching plot is the weakest at not only connecting all the films together, as well as being a driving force throughout the whole film. It was different to show a bigger environment to connect rather than show people just watching the other shorts on VHS tapes as was done in the first two V/H/S movies.

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The first short is called “Dante The Great” and is the first time that breaks the complete found footage form in the V/H/S series as it is more of a mockumentary about a magician who owns a truly magical cloak. If you have been following the V/H/S series, this short can catch you off guard as it is not completely found footage and features interview throughout it while cutting to found footage. This short works really well and is the easiest to follow and was fun take on the mockumentary form.

“Parallel Monsters” is a short that involves alternate dimensions as a man opens a door to an alternate dimension that seems almost the same to ours but slowly as he explores it and switches with his alternate dimensional double, is not as similar as once thought. The characters in this short only speak Spanish which adds a new cultural flair that is done quite well. This short is the most detailed in terms of showing how weird the alternate world is that is being explored of the 3 shorts in V/H/S: Viral, not counting the overarching “Vicious Circles.”

The final short is entitled “Bonestorm” and shows some teenage skateboarders who venture down to Tijuana to film a skating video with a combination of regular video cameras and GoPro cameras. Things get out of hand when the area they are skating attracts some unwanted pagan worshippers.  This short was very action packed and didn’t have any lull points and used the short amount of time to its full potential. The actors gave great performances and the special effects that are needed later in the short are quite impressive.

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Overall, V/H/S: Viral is a good, not great, addition to the V/H/S series. While it still has a smaller distrubution method due to the studio putting it out, Magnet Releasing, which is limited on its resources on getting this movie to the public. Fans who have seen the previous two entries will enjoy this addition to the series. Those who are new to the series might need time adjusting to its scattered nature of being an anthology film that doesn’t transition easily between the stories it is telling.

V/H/S: Viral will be available on Video On Demand on October 23 and in select theaters on November 6.

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Stay tuned for reviews from Day 3 tomorrow!


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Individual tickets are on sale now at twincitiesfilmfest.org


Have you seen any of these films? What did you think?

Rental Pick: PIRATE RADIO (2009)

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A period comedy about an illegal radio station in the North Sea in the 1960s.

PirateRadioPosterSo I guess not all *pirates* are bad. This Richard Curtis‘ comedy is [loosely] based on a true story in the 60s era Britain when the then-traditionalist British government deemed it illegal for radio stations to play rock music. I didn’t even know that this actually went on in England, but clearly, making something illegal would only make something even more popular. Kids and adults alike secretly flock to the radio, whether on their own or in a group, hanging on every broadcast and songs played by these pirate radios. The term pirate radio not only refer to the illegal nature of their broadcasts, but there were apparently pirate off-shore radio transmissions in those days. In fact, the original title of this movie was The Boat That Rocked, which I think is a better title.

I had wanted to see this for a while but given that it’s got Philip Seymour Hoffman in it made me want to see it more. He once again displayed his incredible versatility and keen ability to embody a role like no other. Hoffman played the lone American D.J. ‘The Count’ in a group of all-British staff on the Radio Rock station anchored in the North Sea, ran by Quentin (Bill Nighy). It’s quite a rambunctious but lovable bunch, and the arrival of Quentin’s godson Carl (Tom Sturridge) made for an even more interesting dynamic. He’s sent by his mother to spend time on the boat due to his problems at school, as if she thought he’d learn to be a good boy on THIS boat, ahah. The term sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll is really not far from the truth, surprise, surprise.

The arch nemesis of the group is Sir Alistair Dormandy (played with mustache-twirling kind of villain-y by Sir Kenneth Branagh) whose the quintessential hoity toity persona who thinks everyone beneath him has low morals. Branagh is pretty much chewing the scenery here as he instructs his subordinate, appropriately named Twatt (Jack Davenport), to find a way to somehow shut down Radio Rock.

PirateRadio_StillsWhilst continuing to dodge Alistair’s ruthless advances, the boat has its own shares of drama amongst its crews. The arrival of popular D.J. Gavin (Rhys Ifans) increases tension given the rivalry between him and The Count, not to mention his massive celebrity status also cost fellow DJ Simon (Chris O’Dowd) his new bride. January Jones pretty much just strutted around here, I never really liked her as an actress and her role here didn’t exactly change my mind. All the chaos are done in the spirit of fun however, it’s refreshingly not mean-spirited. And for a British film about rock ‘n roll, it’s not as foul-mouthed as one would expect, which is a pleasant surprise for me. It may appear that the filmmaker is demonizing the British government but really the focus is more on the ridiculousness of Alistair’s holier-than-thou attitude even towards his own cabinet members! There is a subplot about Carl finding about his real father that doesn’t get explored as well as it could, but his unabashed naïveté is pretty endearing to watch. His relationship with Nick Frost‘ character is hilarious but also quite moving.

As for the finale, it’s truly the kind of ending that made you want to get up and cheer! Yes, a little mawkish perhaps, but not devoid of wit and charm. The music here well, rocks, which is what one would expect. The who’s who of rock music in the 60s are on display here, from The Rolling Stones, Dusty Springfield, The Hollies, Jimmy Hendrix, Buddy Holly, etc. add to the feel-good fun vibe of the movie. There’s also no real protagonist in terms of one specific actor dominating the screen, I think the entire boat is the star and you could say even say the rock music is the protagonist. Though the narrative is far from being perfect, it’s still quite heartfelt and entertaining that I’d recommend this for a rental. It’s another fun one from Richard Curtis‘ filmography.


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Have you seen this movie, well what did you think?

FlixChatter Review: GONE GIRL (2014)

GoneGirlBnrFew films this year got as much feverish anticipation as this one. To be honest, I got a bit worried this film wasn’t going to live up to the hype, but I’m glad to report that I wasn’t disappointed. I’m also glad that since I haven’t read the book, I managed to avoid any spoilers about the plot so it was nice to be surprised by the twist and turns as I’m watching the film.

The opening is quite provocative, as it opens with a shot of a beautiful blond woman, along with a male speaking voice saying how it would be nice to crack open her skull to see just what’s inside her head, to see what she is thinking. There’s an air of mystery around her which sets the tone of the entire film. Now, on a different film, we might chalk that narration up as a figure of speech. But in this case, given the title of the film, it definitely makes you think the worst. Well, Gone Girl definitely keeps toying with our perceptions throughout, and that’s part of the fun.

GoneGirl_Still1In case you don’t know anything about the basic plot, here’s the gist: On his fifth wedding anniversary, Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) left his home in the morning to a bar he co-owned with his twin sister. When he came back, he couldn’t find his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) anywhere in his sprawling house, and there’s obvious signs of a break in. So he reports his wife missing and before he knows it, there’s a growing media frenzy on his case that puts extra pressure on him on top of the also-growing suspicion from the police that he’s killed her.

Instead of a straight who-dun-it type of thriller, this film deals more about the psychological aspect of the crumbling of a seemingly-blissful union and how Nick & Amy deal with their mounting problems. The issue behind the marriage dissolution itself isn’t at all uncommon, lots of us can relate to the issue of layoffs and growing apart when expectations no longer aligns with reality. But of course, this story takes a sinister turn that leaves you wondering just what the heck happens. The beauty of the film is that, it doesn’t rely on the twist [a la M. Night Shyamalan's films] to shock or entertain you. Instead, it’s more of a character study of a married couple – who probably shouldn’t be married in the first place – as well as a commentary of the worst side of media frenzy that toys with the public’s perception about a given story.

GoneGirl_Still3Despite the dark subject matter, this film isn’t overly bleak or depressing. Thanks to the taut screenplay by first-time screenwriter Gillian Flynn, who happens to be the author of the best-selling author novel it’s based on. I’m glad David Fincher agreed to work with her instead of hiring a more experienced screenwriter. I think having been ‘living’ with these characters on her head for so long definitely help make them more fleshed-out.Apparently Flynn actually studied his films as she’s writing the script which explains the synergy going on here. Fincher’s direction is solid all around, the story is clearly tailor-made for him. I like the timeline marking of how many days Amy has been gone, and the use of flashbacks are seamless and effective. The journal entries from Amy’s diary gives us a bit of insight into Amy’s side of the story, yet it wasn’t overdone that it’d actually grind the film to a halt. Fincher’s almost surgical precision is apparent in how he sets up every scene. Just like any real-life crime investigation, painstaking eye for details is absolutely critical.

Fincher’s longtime collaborator Trent Reznor provides a cool and eerie score to go with that somber color-scheme. At first I felt like his score was a bit intrusive in the first scenes when Nick & Amy met, but I think it might’ve been intentional. In some key moments, the vigorous & ominous score definitely gets your heart pounding! Another longtime Fincher collaborator is cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth, whose visual sensibility works with Fincher’s style and therefore helps set the mood. The naturalistic style used here fits the tone of the film and the Midwest setting nicely.

GoneGirl_Still2Bringing the story to life are Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike, two beautiful people forming a marriage from hell. For once, Affleck just might get some accolades for his acting instead of directing. I do think he was excellent in Hollywoodland, and in a way there’s some similarities between Nick and George Reeves as he was also at his lowest point professionally. The film however, belongs to the girl in the title role. Pike was nothing short of well, amazing. I’ve seen her in about five films so far, but mostly in supporting roles, and I’ve never seen the kind of range she displayed here. She was perfect as ‘Amazing Amy’, a brilliant ice princess type, the embodiment of her parents perfect image in the book series named after their daughter. At times she reminds me of Nicole Kidman’s character in To Die For, but there’s still a vulnerability about her that keeps you from truly despising her. I knew the British beauty could handle the sinister aspect of her character, but still I was floored by how good she was and her American accent is pretty convincing as well. I so hope she’d get some nominations come award-season, she’s definitely the breakout female performer of the year for me.

The supporting cast includes some rather off-the-wall choices playing against type. Tyler Perry is quite amusing as Nick’s top-notch lawyer, and Neil Patrick Harris as Amy’s creepy ex-boyfriend. The latter threw me off a bit as I somehow didn’t know he was part of the cast. Given Harris’ personal life, it took me a while to see him as a straight guy being obsessed over a girl, but I think he pulled it off. I also have to mention Carrie Coon and Kim Dickens as Nick’s sister and the detective, respectively. Both were excellent playing key roles in the story. Interesting casting of Sela Ward as a TV reporter here given that she played the murdered wife in The Fugitive where the husband was accused of killing her.

GoneGirl_Stills4Spoiler alert [highlight text below if you want to read it]
I feel that Amy might’ve gotten away w/ murder too easily. There’s a moment at the police station when Nick immediately knew she had deliberately killed Desi. “How did she manage to find a box cutter when she’s tied up all the time?” He quipped, but the male cop who’s always disliked him brushed him off. But also there’s the issue about all the blood that was mopped up in the kitchen. If she said she had been hit by her abductor, wouldn’t the cops at the very least try to corroborate her story and find some kind of proof that her story checks out? It’s not a huge quibble but it did bother me after I saw the movie.

So what’s the verdict? Well, Gone Girl definitely lives up to the hype. It’s more entertaining than I thought it would be. This will likely end up in my top 5 favorite Fincher films, perhaps between Fight Club and The Social Network which also have some humorous moments sprinkled throughout. I love it when a movie sparks a lot of discussions and makes you ponder about your own life situation. As I haven’t read the book, I can’t comment if the film is better than that or not, but I think it works in the big screen format. Props to Fincher and Flynn for making a story that might not translate well to film into something cinematic, gripping and wildly entertaining.

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So what do you think of Gone Girl? Did it live up to YOUR expectations?

September Blind Spot: Double Indemnity (1944)

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This is the second Billy Wilder film on my Blindspot [first one was The Apartment] and the fourth film of his I’ve seen, which happens to be the fourth film he directed. It’s also the first Barbara Stanwyck movie I saw as well as my first viewing of Fred MacMurray in the lead role. Ok now that we’ve got the stats out of the way, let me tell you that I LOVED it! Some people say it’s one of the best Hollywood noir films and it’s currently ranked #29 Greatest Movie of All Time by AFI. Well, I’d say it lives up to the hype.
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The story is quite simple and easy to follow, though there are twists as the story goes on that makes it all the more intriguing, even if it’s a tad predictable. The gist of the story is this: MacMurray is Walter Neff, an insurance agent who upon meeting the sultry wife of his client somehow got himself talked into a murderous insurance fraud scheme. Double Indemnity refers to a life insurance policy clause where the payout doubles when the recipient dies of an accidental death. The film begins with Walter going into his office at night and starts talking into a Dictaphone Machine. In the shadowy B&W lighting, I slowly notice he has been hurt and that he’s making a confession of a crime he’s committed. The story then goes into flashback mode that clues the audience into just what has happened to Walter and why he’s confessing it all.

It’s a By the time Walter Neff realizes he’s been ensnared by her deceitful net, it was all too late. In a way, I too felt like I had been played by Phyllis into thinking she had been wronged by her husband. But of course as the story unfolds, we learn that Phyllis has been planning this scheme all along and it’s not the first time she’s done something like this. I have to say that the romance isn’t particularly gripping, though the flirtatious banter the first time they meet is quite amusing. It’s obvious Walter was lusting after Phyllis the second he saw her during his routine house call.

“I was thinking about that dame upstairs, and the way she had looked at me, and I wanted to see her again, close, without that silly staircase between us.”

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The dialog sounds a bit cheesy and simplistic at times, it made me laugh how Walter kept calling Phyllis baby. But both actors fit the role nicely, and they do look good together even if the chemistry isn’t exactly scorching. What I do enjoy is the dialog between Walter and his claims adjuster colleague Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson). I’ve only seen Robinson in The Ten Commandments as Moses’ adversary Dathan, but he’s the kind of scene-stealing character actor who lights up any scene. He reminds me of Claude Rains in Casablanca, one of my fave performances of all time. At first Keyes seems to be on Walter-Phyllis side, unknowingly working in their favor when he insisted that Phyllis’ husband’s death wasn’t a suicide. Little did they know soon he became their biggest *adversary* that puts their evil scheme in jeopardy. I LOVE this part when Keyes laid it out on Walter that he isn’t easily fooled… and once he’s on to something, he wouldn’t ever let it go.

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Barton Keyes: Eh? There it is, Walter. It’s beginning to come apart at the seams already. Murder’s never perfect. Always comes apart sooner or later, and when two people are involved it’s usually sooner. Now we know the Dietrichson dame is in it *and* a somebody else. Pretty soon, we’ll know who that somebody else is. He’ll show. He’s got to show. Sometime, somewhere, they’ve got to meet. Their emotions are all kicked up. Whether it’s love or hate doesn’t matter; they can’t keep away from each other. They may think it’s twice as safe because there’s two of them [chuckles]

Barton Keyes: but it isn’t twice as safe. It’s ten times twice as dangerous. They’ve committed a *murder*! And it’s not like taking a trolley ride together where they can get off at different stops. They’re stuck with each other and they got to ride all the way to the end of the line and it’s a one-way trip and the last stop is the cemetery. She put in her claim… I’m gonna throw it right back at her. [Walter hands Keyes a light]

Barton Keyes: Let her sue us if she dares. I’ll be ready for her *and* that somebody else. They’ll be digging their own graves.

I love how quickly the table’s turned on Walter/Phyllis, it’s inevitable yet the film manages to create some suspense thanks to Wilder’s direction. There are many iconic scenes here, the store scenes where Walter & Phyllis secretly meet and the scene at Walter’s apartment when Barton drops by unexpectedly come to mind. They both are laden with tension despite not having much action going on.

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The story immediately grabs me, just like The Apartment was. It must be Billy Wilder’s gift to create such a compelling intro. Of course it helps having celebrated crime novelist Raymond Chandler co-writing the screenplay. Though it was only his fourth film, I could see why this was regarded as one of Wilder’s best work. The way the story flows, combined with Miklós Rózsa‘s unsettling score and John F. Seitz‘s stunning cinematography, this film is as captivating as its femme fatale. Barbara Stanwyck‘s Phyllis Dietrichson is beautiful and seductive, but there’s still a certain softness about her that somehow camouflages her wickedness. Stanwyck isn’t over-the-top in her portrayal either, the way some of today’s femme fatale might play someone like her. Think of Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct for example, or even Eva Green in the Sin City sequel, Stanwyck’s charm and seduction is a lot more subtle, though definitely not less lethal.

I have to mention the cinematography again here as it really enhances the mood of the film. I read in Wikipedia Seitz used a lighting technique called the “venetian blind” which almost gives the illusion of prison bars trapping the characters. Stanwyck later reflected, “…and for an actress, let me tell you the way those sets were lit, the house, Walter’s apartment, those dark shadows, those slices of harsh light at strange angles – all that helped my performance. The way Billy staged it and John Seitz lit it, it was all one sensational mood.” MacMurray was terrific as well, no wonder my friend Jack D. dedicated a post to him as a superb louse. I love the scenes when his conscience is creeping up on him … “I couldn’t hear my own footsteps. It was the walk of a dead man.” 

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I’m impressed once again by Wilder’s work here. It’s amazing that this is his first ever thriller as it’s now been regarded as one of the most important film in its noir genre. Though there is very little action in this film, but it’s far from boring. It’s the quintessential film noir driven by story and character, not laden with violence but lacking in real suspense *cough* Sin City 2 *cough* Apparently Stanwyck’s character set the mold of unforgettable femme fatale, and signals a noir trend centered on women of questionable virtue.

The trifecta of main actors: Stanwyck, MacMurray and Robinson are all superb. Everything about this film just works, so I’m surprised it didn’t win any of the seven Oscar nominations. I even like the small details such as the lighter, how Walter often lights Barton’s cigarette. It sort of becomes a thing between the two of them, and in the finale, it’s Barton who lights Walter’s cigarette in his moment of desperation. Whilst the film’s main focus was on the unholy romance of Walter & Phyllis, there’s also a story of friendship between the two men. In a way, his friendship with Barton might’ve given Walter his conscience back. I also learned from Wiki that the ending is different from James M. Cain‘s novel it’s based on, but the author was actually pleased with it.

I’m glad I finally got to see it. I could see how this film inspires countless imitation, in terms of story and character development. Few could match the brilliance of Wilder’s noir masterpiece.

4.5 out of 5 reels


BlindSpotSeriesSidebarCheck out my previous 2014 Blind Spot reviews


So have you seen Double Indemnity? I’d love to hear what you think!

FlixChatter Review: The Equalizer (2014)

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With the comic book based films dominating the box office, the trend in Hollywood of turning old TV shows into films has died down the last decade or so. I remember back in the 90s, there were new movies based on TV shows coming out every year, Mission: Impossible, The Fugitive, The Brady Bunch Movie and The Saint were some examples. Of course that doesn’t mean Hollywood is going to stop turning old shows into movies, this latest one has been in development for a few years. Originally the late Tony Scott was attached to direct and Russell Crowe was set to star as the lead. After a couple of years of development, Crowe had to drop out to do other films, Denzel Washington was then cast but of course we all know what happened to Scott. The film was put on hiatus for a couple of years until Antoine Fuqua was hired to direct.

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Set in Boston, the movie opens with the daily life of a mysterious man named Robert McCall (Washington), he works at store that’s very similar to Home Depot. We get to see his every day routines and who interacts with at work. He couldn’t sleep at night so he’d always go to a local diner next to his home. One night he strikes up a conversation with a young woman named Teri (Chloe Grace Moretz), right away we know that Teri is a working girl. But McCall is nice to her and never sees her as anything more than a kid who’s having a tough life. A few days later, McCall found out that Teri was rough up by her pimp named Slavi (David Meunier, cousin Johnny from Justified). He decided to pay Slavi a visit and offer him $9800 for Teri’s freedom. Slavi refused and as most of you probably seen in the trailer, McCall took out Slavi and his men easily. As it turns out Slavi was a one of the pawns of a ruthless Russian mobster named Pushkin (Vladimir Kulich), he’s one of the biggest crime lord in the world. Upon learning that one of pawns in the US was taken out, he sends his right-hand man Teddy (the always over top and cheesy Marton Csokas) to investigate and bring in who ever was responsible for the killings.

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Not surprisingly, the movie was pretty much a by-the-number action thriller, nothing will surprise you except for maybe the over the top violence. Some might say it’s gratuitous but I think we are use to seeing watered down PG-13 action movies the last decade or so that we forgot how violent action movies were back in the 80s and 90s, so I wasn’t bothered by the violence.

Director Antoine Fuqua kept some elements from the TV show but wisely update many things for today’s audiences. I wasn’t a fan of his last flick; the dreadful and ugly looking Olympus Has Fallen. Here I thought he did a good job of balancing the drama and action, the movie was borderline of becoming too serious for its own good but I never thought it took itself way too serious like some other action pictures. He reunited with his cinematographer Mauro Fiore, they previously worked together on Training Day and Tears of the Sun. I thought the movie looked great, it has that gritty feel to it that reminded me of Scorsese’s gangster films and even though the movie was shot digitally, they still made it looked like it’s shot on film. I’ve mentioned many times, I can’t stand watching movies that looks like it’s shot with consumer camcorders. Fuqua also staged some cool and very brutal hand to combat sequences, the climatic fight between McCall and one of Teddy’s henchmen was quite bloody and painful to watch. For this kind of movie I wanted to see more shootouts and explosions but there were enough action that I wasn’t too disappointed. But for the climatic action sequence, I didn’t understand why Fuqua decided to copy Clint Eastwood’s Pale Rider. Seriously he must’ve watched that movie and thought “Hey I can do that for my movie and no one will probably know since Pale Rider came out almost 30 years ago!” Sorry Fuqua, film geeks like myself will always know.

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This movie was a one-man show and again Washington shines as the action hero. McCall’s a mix of Creasy from Man on Fire, Travis from Taxi Driver and the Preacher from Pale Rider. He’s one-man army that can take down an army of assassins with no problems. As mentioned earlier, the always over-acting Marton Csokas does it again here as the antagonist Teddy. He wasn’t as cheesy as his character in XXX, kind of similar to his assassin turn in The Bourne Supremacy. Moretz only appeared in the movie briefly as the young hooker and then disappeared and she did okay for her part, kind of similar to Jodie Foster’s character in Taxi Driver, pretty sure she won’t get an Oscar like Foster did though.

As fan of the old TV show I was satisfied with the movie version but again it’s nothing new but just another by the number action thriller. If you’re a big fan of the TV show then you might have issues with some of the changes the movie made for today’s audiences but like Mission: Impossible, you can’t please everyone. It’s obvious that Sony hopes this one will be hit because the movie set up with sequels in mind. I say this was an entertaining action picture and good for a matinee or rental.

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Have you seen The Equalizer? Well, what did you think?

FlixChatter Review – The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them

EleanorRigbyTitleIt seems that a straight love-themed drama is hard to come in Hollywood. Instead we see romance as part of another genre, i.e. romantic comedy, romantic thriller, romantic sci-fi and so on. It’s even more rare to see a love story in a three-film format, not a trilogy mind-you, but the same story told from three different perspective [as you can read in my spotlight here] where director Ned Besson shot three films from his and her perspective, then created a third – more marketable – version, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them.

So who’s miss Eleanor Rigby? You might be inclined to think she ‘disappears’ in the same sense as Gone Girl, but no that’s not the case here. But the title makes sense as the film progresses, which is unfolding in an unhurried pace that is far from boring. It opens with a gorgeous young couple, Eleanor and Conor, running off without paying their bill at a restaurant. It’s apparent the two are blissfully in love, which makes you wonder all the more what happen to such a seemingly jubilant marriage. Besson didn’t immediately fill in everything about the incident that trigger the relationship’s collapse, which can be at times frustrating but it also made me appreciate the journey with the characters. 

EleanorRigbyStills1I read afterwards that Besson apparently had a relationship with the lead actress, Jessica Chastain, and that in a way the story is somewhat biographical. Perhaps that’s why I think Chastain is so perfect in the role, though I think she would be anyway without their history. She’s the kind of actress whose got such a captivating screen presence, both strong and vulnerable, as well as being able to remain likable even if her character isn’t always so. In fact, at times I feel like perhaps she’s being unreasonable. What could be so horrible that made her decide to take such drastic measures? I feel that Eleanor chooses to drown in her own grief despite being surrounded by such a supportive family, which I think is still a privilege as not many people would have such a privilege. Yet I couldn’t dislike her and I attribute that to Chastain’s soulful performance.

On the other side is James McAvoy as Conor, the *jilted* husband who tries to win her back. McAvoy is such a capable actor, I always think that given his resemblance to Gerard Butler, the two could be brothers, but he’s the kind of performer I wish Butler could be. McAvoy could juggle big-budget Summer movies like X-Men Days of Future Past, in an iconic role no less, yet he can still *disappear* [pardon the pun] into an entirely different role here. Like Eleanor, Conor is a flawed character who struggles with his crumbling marriage as well as his frosty relationship with his dad. I’d have to say I prefer McAvoy in dramatic fares and I hope he does more stuff like this where he plays a regular guy.

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I feel that under less capable hands, both Conor & Eleanor might not have been as captivating nor as convincing in conveying deep emotional heartbreak. Even in quieter moments, both actors can hold your attention and they definitely get you involved in their story. It definitely helps having a solid supporting cast, I especially like Viola Davis as a college professor who became Eleanor’s unlikely confidant, as well as Ciaran Hinds & William Hurt as the father of Conor & Elinor, respectively. Bill Hader provides somewhat of a comic relief as McAvoy’s BFF. He’s ok but I feel that their scenes felt too much like a traditional *ingredient* of a typical rom-com, so it feels like a weak link in an otherwise unconventional drama.

It’s a small quibble though, the film does a lot of things right in that it really got you involved in the characters’ journey. As I’ve been married for some time to my college sweetheart, it definitely made me think about what I’d do if this circumstance were to happen to me. There is a moment in their apartment where barely any word is spoken, but it was such a heart-wrenching and delicate moment between the two. Yet I don’t feel manipulated into feeling something that’s superficial, there’s no sweeping music to tug your heartstrings, it was all the result of being invested in the story. That said, the music/songs are quite enjoyable and fit the theme of the film nicely. As I mentioned before, I love that Besson took his time to reveal the incident that propel the story. He give you some subtle hints throughout so you can take a guess what happens but the details remain open-ended.

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Overall I’m impressed by Besson’s feature film debut, and applaud him for trying something different w/ the format. I like how intimate and personal this story feels, brought out by authentic and compelling performances of the two main actors. The cinematography of NYC is gorgeous and it shows a warm, even personal side of the city that complements the story. I’d be inclined to check out the His/Her version when they’re out on rental, that’d give me more insight into both characters and their story. It’s too bad that reportedly the film didn’t do well at all at the box office (per The Wrap) as I’d love more people to see this film. I was hoping that Besson, as well as McAvoy & Chastain get some nominations come award season, but that seems unlikely. In any case, I highly recommend this if you’re in the mood for a character-driven drama with splendid performances.

4.5 out of 5 reels


Thoughts on this one? If you have seen it, I’d love to hear what you think.

A Well Executed Blast From The Past: The Prime Gig (2000)

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Greetings all and sundry!

Having just completed a move from Suburban Maryland to more tax friendly, though a bit jumbled and busy, Falls Church, Virginia. I’ve allowed myself a few evenings of vegging out and catching up on the notable offerings from IFC (Independent Film Channel). In lieu of multiple series winding down to their last few episodes of their respective seasons.

Now, I enjoy cliffhangers as well as the next guy. Though given the opportunity to indulge in a little, highly polished glistening nugget featuring the Grand Master of Character Actors, Ed Harris. Then up and coming actor, Vince Vaughn. Creating two angles in a film full of angles, lies, distortions, half truths. And the allure of boundless wealth through telephone sales and the intrigue of The Long Con creating the third. With the aid of fetching, knowing Julia Ormond.

To that end. Allow me a few moments of your time to slowly peel back the layers of one of the more intricately executed explorations into the world of trust, varying degrees of intimidation. And even more subtle alterations of perception with.

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The Prime Gig (2000)

Which begins in the rather decrepit expanded low rent apartment and Man Cave of Pendleton “Penny” Wise. An up and comer in the realm of grand dreams and intermittent talent regarding conning, cajoling and occasionally brow beating money from hapless names on printed lists. To sell questionable goods and services while slowly advancing up the always present Sales Board.

In a nutshell. All the props, bells and whistles reliant upon and present in a mid rage “Boiler Room’ operation.

And make no mistake about it. Mr. Wise, as presented and envisioned by Vince Vaughn is a go getter. Though sometimes indulging in slowly receding inner turmoil about such oddities as morals. And feeling bad at the end of the day after fleecing future college tuition and “Vegas” or “Vacation Money” totaling in the tens of thousands. Much better at it than his two low scale colleagues. Older, wiser, Gene (Wallace Shawn) and charismatic Joel (Rory Cochrane).

And at this moment in time, “Penny” unwittingly presents himself as an intriguing and vulnerable target for a much wiser and covertly admired and adored Master Telemarketer, and Guru, Kelly Grant. Magnificently played with equal amounts of bravura and “Aw, shucks!” congeniality by Master Craftsman, Ed Harris.

PrimeGig_Harris_OrmondIt seems that Kelly is slowly bouncing back from being taken to the cleaners by the Feds and the SEC. Meticulously doling out and gathering funds for another “clean and legitimate” operation. Involving the sales of parcels of land on and surrounding a gold mine in the whip sawn outback of Bisbee, Arizona.

Kelly’s approach is a thing of subtle beauty. Performed by Caitlin Carlson (Julia Ormond. Radiating just the right amount of business smarts and sexuality. Who catches Penny’s attention and reels him comfortably in. Before introductions are made with Mr. Grant.

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Who has all his shiny brochures, spread sheets, graphs and pie charts ready for perusal after a sumptuous dinner. Laying his soul and his plan bare. While being glowingly, honestly forthright in his plans to make other people rich.

Though a veteran of the trenches and an outright cynic, Penny obliquely asks for some time to digest it all. Penny is given a day. And the availability of Caitlin as a Point of Contact. The day arrives and Penny agrees. Only to be one of a dozen different prospects and hungry Young Turks. With nationalities divergent as the rainbow. And names ranging from Archie (George Wendt), Cheryl (Jeannetta Arnette), Sujat (Shishir Kurup), Zeke (Romany Malko) and Batgirl (Amber Benson).

All are assembled pursuing the scent of large money. And the chance to get out from under college tuition and loan debt. Or the chance to make “crazy bank”. And spend it frivolously. Each has an agenda. And a scheme. Though, in order to harness and utilize maximum potential. They’ve got to believe!

Which entails a chartered plane flight and road trip west. To see first hand the expansive excavation, digging and tunneling surrounding several hundred acres of isolated Arizona Outback. And, yes. It is a busy little and noisy microcosm regaled in hard hats, reflective vests and large earth moving equipment. Wizened, if not refreshed. Penny and company return for marathon telephone sessions under the watchful eye of Kelly Grant up his elevated Sky Box Seat. Listening and ready to cut in with advice. As Penny, Zeke and Batgirl do battle. As those who lack sterner stuff eke out the day. And week. With the victors pitched banded rolls of fresh bills as incentive for the coming day.

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A crude motivational tool, to be sure. Though it does light a fire under the bottoms of those ignored. To become bolder and progressively more brutal during their telephonic tete a tetes. Through it all, Penny is quite content and comfortable with his techniques, Especially when part of his reward is the lush Caitlin.

And it is the intrigue of their romance that adds well deserved meat to this tale of blatant and perhaps, covert duplicity. Since Caitlin is Kelly Grant’s woman. Even if there is some slack in her leash to allow outside diversions. As Penny makes more and more money, Much of which is put in a checking account. Gathering the wherewithal to possibly steal Caitlin away. Though, that will be on her terms. Not Penny’s.

Life is good. Life goes on. The coffers of Mr. Grant’s are full of other people’s money. Some of which is used to pay for the machinery and workers in Bisbee, Other monies are used to pay for lawyers, scientists and masses of their office staff.

Penny awakes and heads off the”office” for a another day of verbal battle and Blitzkrieg. Opening the door to find…..

I’ll leave it right there for spoiler’s sake.

Now. What Makes This Film Good?

A well constructed and often deliberately vague screenplay, story and script. That allows glimpses and some memorable longing gazes into what you don’t see behind a far flung, major con. Centered around the day to day machinations of the long lived and reliable Ponzi scheme. Demanding major investments from the naïve and monied middle class. Who are well off, or better. Just to keep what’s happening in Arizona solvent and perhaps, productive day after day.

Though, it is on the front lines where the depths of greed and avarice are dangled like bait. And Penny and his rogues gallery are allowed to shine. Most notably in the competitions between Penny and Zeke. Who sometimes seethes with racial angst and animus, That results in many closed deals.

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Julia Ormond, in a very early role is a natural seductress. With class, poise, etiquette, a lovely Surrey accent. As well as being very easy on the eyes, Who may or may not know all of Kelly Grant’s grand scheme. But is not about to divulge any more than necessary. While Wallace Shawn, George Wendt and Rory Cochrane offer moral support to Penny. With hints of trepidation later on.

Cinematography by John A. Alonzo is often Sun hazed during outside daylight hours. And razor sharp and sparkled with far off lights at night. And wondrously, intimately tight in the Boiler Room’s Bullpens. Allowing time and space for the actors’ bodies and faces to swell with humor, anger or rage while achieving their goals.

Yet, offering a flat plain of space for discussions between Penny and Kelly Wise. An empty arena or battleground between two predators. Except Mr. Harris’ Kelly Grant has been doing this sort of things for decades. Dresses, acts and becomes the Master of Obfuscation, Misdirection and Distraction. Knows all the ins and outs and how to tap dance and patch over their flaws. While holding all the cards. The dialogue between the Sensei and gifted amateur is well worth the price of discovery and admission.

What Makes This Film Great?

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Ed Harris in charge of a scam of his own making. Staying in the background. While wisely revealing enough to keep those around him interested and at his beck and call. Keeping the lion’s share of the nuts and bolts hidden under veils of distraction. And jovially warning Penny and others that “You can’t trust a con man!”.

Pulling those around him close in their desire for more. Money. Recognition. Defining, expensive wardrobes and wheels, Because in L.A. You are what you drive. Creating a multi act play in personal greed and self destruction. Well aided by an original soundtrack by David Robbins. Art Direction by Michael Atwell. And Set Decoration by Alice Baker. Who have a knack for making spacious office space and expansive Bull Pens appear much smaller and compact and low ceilinged than at first glance. Creating possibly the best definition of the phrase “Boiler Room” in film!


Check out Jack’s other posts and reviews


Agree. Disagree, Other Choices? The Floor Is Open For Discussion.

FlixChatter Review: The November Man (2014)

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It’s been over a decade since Pierce Brosnan played a spy, his last outing as 007 in the atrocious Die Another Day probably was not the way he wanted to go out after 4 very successful Bond films, financially speaking only of course. Along with Die Another Day, I thought The World Is Not Enough is also up there with being one of the worst Bond films ever made. Brosnan is now back playing another sort of super spy and believe it or not, it might be worse than the last two Bond flicks he starred in.

This new film starts with the usual spy flick, a beautiful location in Montenegro and we’re introduced to an aging spy Peter Devereaux (Brosnan) and his young protégé David Mason (Luke Bracey). They’re in the city to protect a very important US Congressman, later there was an assassination attempt and during the chaos, Mason took out the assassin but unfortunately he also killed an innocent kid who happens to be in the wrong place. This infuriated Devereaux because the young spy wouldn’t listen to him and killed an innocent bystander. Fast forwarded a few years later and Devereaux is now retired and living in Switzerland. His old boss Hanley (Bill Smitrovich) showed up and asked for his help.

Apparently a very important and dangerous man named Federov (Lazar Ristovski) in Russia is going to become its next president and US government doesn’t want that to happen. There’s a mole inside Federov’s circle and she has evidence against him that can destroy his campaign of becoming the president. Hanley wants Devereaux to rescue her before she gets exposed and also he wants the evidence against Federov. As it turns out this mole is Devereaux’s old girlfriend and he still has feelings for her. Of course he accepts the mission and decided to get back in action. Unfortunately though, a top CIA executive Perry Weinstein (Will Patton) found out about this mole and wants her taken out. He ordered his agents to assassinate her, one of these agents also included Devereaux’s protégé David Mason. Of course things gets messy when Devereaux and his old pal finally meet during a botched rescue. There were shootouts, explosions and car chases.

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The plot of this movie was so convoluted that I sort of tuned out because it was not interesting to me. They introduced a lot of things but never really solved them by the time the movie ended. It’s one of those movies where it thinks it’s smarter than it’s actually is. Veteran director Roger Donaldson who at one point was on his way of becoming an A-list director, doesn’t seem to know what he wanted this movie to be. And to be honest, I don’t think he really care about telling a cohesive story or even staged a descent action scene. He and his cinematographer decided to adapt the visual that’s very similar to Paul Greengrass’ Jason Bourne films, unfortunately their movie looks pretty ugly compare to Greengrass’. Could be that maybe they don’t have the budget as big as the Bourne films but still the movie looked just awful. Even worse the script by Michael Finch and Karl Gajdusek felt like it’s written by amateur writers. The movie was based on a Bill Granger’s  novel called There Are No Spies, I’ve never read or even heard of the book before so I couldn’t make a comparison here.

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Performances wise, the only person who shines was Brosnan, since he’s also the producer of the movie, it seemed he really put a lot of heart into his performance here. Unfortunately his co-stars didn’t do much. Luke Bracey probably went to the same acting school as Taylor Kitsch since he has no charisma and didn’t even look believable during the action scenes. Ex-Bond girl Olga Kurylengo pretty much got stuck playing the same character since Quantum of Solace, in fact her storyline in this movie is very similar to that of Quantum. I couldn’t believe it! I just thought to myself, are the writers really that lazy and didn’t think no one would notice?

It’s really unfortunate how this movie turned out, I thought after so many years out of doing action movie, Brosnan would’ve learned his lesson and chose a good script. Apparently he didn’t and starred in another lousy action/spy picture. I really tried to find something positive to say about this movie but I really can’t. It’s ugly, boring and worse of all just a waste of time. Not recommended at all.

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Have you seen The November Man? Well, what did you think?

August Blind Spot: The Philadelphia Story (1940)

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Instead of a straight review, this post is more of my reaction of the movie and the cast, so I’m going to include some observations as well as trivia from IMDb.

There’s been a lot of ‘firsts’ with some of the Blindspot movies I saw. Well, with this one, it’s a lot of ‘seconds.’ It’s the second George Cukor film I saw (the first was My Fair Lady, but I’m not counting Gone With the Wind as he was fired early on from his directing duties) and it’s also the second Cary Grant + Katharine Hepburn film I saw after Bringing Up Baby.

It is however, the first time I saw both Cary Grant AND Jimmy Stewart in a movie together and honestly, that’s the main draw for me. I was also curious because this movie was regarded as one of the best rom-coms, in fact it ranked #5 on the AFI’s list of 10 greatest films in that genre. Well, now that I’ve seen it, I think it’s an enjoyable movie but it wasn’t GREAT by any means, in fact it got a bit silly at times and Stewart seems awkward in some of the scenes and not as effortless in comedy as Grant was. That’s why I was  surprised that Stewart actually won Best Actor that year, say what? Well, apparently the actor himself was shocked as well. According to IMDb, ‘Stewart never felt he deserved the Best Actor Oscar for his performance in this film, especially since he had initially felt miscast. He always maintained that Henry Fonda should have won instead for The Grapes of Wrath (1940), and that the award was probably “deferred payment for my work on Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)”.’ Yep, I totally agree Stewart should’ve won for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, which was another Blindspot film I saw earlier this year (read my review).

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Now, for those who haven’t seen the film, the film is about a socialite, Tracy Lord (Hepburn) whose wedding plans to nouveau riche George Kittredge (John Howard) are complicated by the simultaneous arrival of her ex-husband C.K. Dexter Haven (Grant) and a tabloid magazine journalist Macaulay Connor (Stewart). The movie didn’t immediately click with me, which I often find with some classic films I saw, but fortunately it got a bit more engrossing as the film progressed. One reason I didn’t click with the movie right away could be because I couldn’t quite warm up to Hepburn. Yes I know she’s one of Hollywood’s best actresses and the most decorated with 12 nominations and four wins (WOW!), but out of the three films I saw her in, I find that she’s not immediately sympathetic. I mean there are other actresses who often play strong independent women with minds of their own, but they somehow still have a certain vulnerability and even warmth about them that I don’t quite see in Hepburn.

In any case, the movie itself is enjoyable enough, but lack the emotional resonance I felt with say, The Apartment or Roman Holiday. The actors are fun to watch as they’re bantering with one another, but I feel somewhat detached from them that it was hard for me to care about any of them. So for most of the movie, I was busy admiring the gorgeous costume design, especially all Hepburn’s dressed designed by Adrian.

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Hepburn had such a svelte figure that everything looked good on her, I especially love the Grecian dress she wore when she was dancing with Stewart by the pool. The transparent silk organza dress with string tie belt she wore in the finale [see above, bottom left] is my favorite as it looks ethereal and elegant, and it fits Hepburn so beautifully.

The chemistry between her and her male co-stars are ok, I think she seems most comfortable with Grant which is perhaps why they often do a film together. What I do enjoy more than the romance is the scenes of Grant and Stewart together. They seem to have a good rapport as they play off each other well. Just seeing these two biggest classic male superstars together is amusing enough, but the two have quite different styles of acting which made it even more fun to watch.

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The scene where Stewart got the hiccups as he was drunk is pretty hilarious. I could tell Grant was amused and at times he looked like he was about to burst out laughing. As it turns out, the hiccup was improvised and Stewart didn’t tell Grant ahead of time, hence Grant’s natural amused reaction. LOVE it!

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The supporting cast is pretty good, I thought Virginia Weidler is so darn cute as Tracy’s smart-alecky teenage sister and Ruth Hussey as the sardonic photographer who’s not-so-secretly in love with Stewart’s character.

SPOILER ALERT! [I figure I might not be the only one who hasn't seen this] Now the movie ends in happy ending of course. And the trouble with seeing tons of still photos of the wedding scene before I finally saw it, I kind of know how it’d end so there’s no surprise there. Still it was pretty sweet, I think that’s probably the only dramatic moment in the entire film as the camera pans to both Grant and Hussey’s look of dismay as Stewart’s character proposed to Hepburn’s.

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Final Thoughts: The high-society type comedies are pretty amusing to me and having three major movie stars certainly didn’t hurt, but for some reason I just wasn’t wowed by it. I know I’m in the minority as seems like everyone else LOVED this movie. I wish I loved it more but hey, it is what it is. That said, I’m glad I finally saw it and I’m still curious to see more work from all three actors. This movie is apparently based on a Broadway production and I think this story might actually work better on stage. I just saw Noël Coward’s 1930s comedy of manners Private Lives starring Toby Stephens & Anna Chancellor, I’d imagine the battle of the sexes with all the witty repartee would be similar to that. So overall the movie an enjoyable farce, but not exactly a comedic masterpiece it’s made out to be.

3.5 reels


BlindSpotSeriesSidebarCheck out my previous 2014 Blind Spot reviews


So have you seen The Philadelphia Story? I’m curious to hear what you think!