Despite my relatively low review rating on this site, Im an avid movie lover. My reviews don't reflect in any way the amount of films i've watched. I just like to add something a little more substantial than putting in a few stars to reflect my opinion. Although it is very tempting to take the easy route!
I notice some people like to keep a certain privacy on this site also which baffles me...? It's a social networking site at the end of the day and we seem to share a common interest. The more friends and film recomendations the merrier.
In dealing with the financial meltdown of an investment bank, J.C. Chandor's directorial debut "Margin Call" in 2011, was an impressively handled, fast paced and very dialogue driven film. It also had a who's who of familiar actors as they wheeled and dealed their way out of their crisis with a spot of verbal jousting. Now, in only his second feature, Chandor has left all that behind and delivers a film that couldn't be further from his debut. There's only one actor and you're lucky if you get a couple of lines of dialogue in the entire film.
In the Indian Ocean, a man (Robert Redford) wakes up on his yacht to find that a shipping container, that has been left adrift in the seas, has collided with him. It's ripped a hole in his hull and he's quickly taking in water. He manages to patch it up but a violent storm brings yet more problems and soon, time is running out for him.
As the film opens we are told that it is 1700 nautical miles from the Sumatra straits. That's about all we get in determining where our protagonist is. He's never actually named either - referred only as 'Our Man' in the end credits - so we don't know who he is or why he's there, other than some brief voiceover dialogue informing us that he's sorry for something. Again, we don't know what he's done or who he's apologising to - possibly his family. Either way, he's alone on his yacht and we don't know where he's heading to. That's about as much information as we are given and it doesn't get any clearer. It's this very ambiguity that sets the films tone; it doesn't concern itself with details or backstory or even much dialogue for that matter. This is a meditation on human resilience and determination. Anything else other than that leaves us just as alone as our nameless protagonist. Chandor's intention is to obviously keep things at a minimum and force us to look for the film's themes. Finding these themes, though, is just as elusive as our characters chances of survival. Maybe I missed the point, but all I could find here was the was he was going through some form of penance for his past misdeeds or that the story is an allegory for mortality. Other than that, I felt as lost as him and could fully relate to the film's appropriate title.
That being said, there's still much to admire here. Chandor's minimalist approach manages to balance the vast open space with a real sense of claustrophobia and Redford's paired down performance is absolutely captivating. He has such a comforting and recognisable presence that it's easy to adapt to his character and his isolation. It takes a great actor to be able to hold your attention when they are practically saying nothing and completely carrying a film on their own. Redford's work here is reminiscent of Tom Hanks' exemplary and Oscar nominated performance in "Cast Away" and it's hard to accept that he missed out on an nomination himself, when many expected him to feature. His performance is a very physical one and all the more impressive considering he's now at the tail-end of his 70's. It's a lonely and gruelling journey and despite the lack of dialogue, Redford's subtlety speaks volumes. It's almost as if we we can hear his internal dialogue and the conversation he's continually having with himself. There is much to recommend this film but if there's only one reason to see it, it would be for Redford.
Most of the ingredients are here for a potential modern classic. Chandor's direction is impressive, as is Redford's outstanding central performance. Alex Ebert also conducts a wonderfully ethereal music score that compliments the powerful cinematography. However, as much as I enjoyed "All Is Lost" for these attributes, I struggled with it's relentlessness and couldn't really see the point of it all.
If he's not already there yet, there's no doubt that Alexander Payne is a director who is fast becoming a name that's synonymous with quality. I've yet to see his 1996 debut "Citizen Ruth" but from "Election" in 1999 to the "The Descendants" in 2012, Payne has delivered a consistency that few directors can match. With every film, he just gets better and better and "Nebraska" is no exception.
After receiving a letter from the lottery sweepstakes, elderly Montana resident Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) is convinced he's won $1 million and decides to travel to Nebraska to collect his prize. His son David (Will Forte) realises that his fathers growing senility has gotten the better of him but decides to accompany him on the journey to look after him. As they make several stops along the way, David learns more about his father's distant past and how it's shaped the person he is now.
After tackling the road-movie in "About Schmidt" and "Sideways" Payne successfully returns to that sub-genre. Like those aforementioned films he, once again, astutely focuses on the interaction between odd and eccentric individuals who are struggling to come to terms with how their life and relationships have worked out. The beauty of Payne's work is his palpable sense of realism and his consistent ability to capture believable character's in all their frailty and vulnerability and "Nebraska" is no different. In fact, it's arguably his finest work yet.
Working from a cleverly nuanced script by Bob Nelson, Payne's casting choices are what really stand out here. A lot has been said about the Oscar nominated performance of Bruce Dern and I can only add that the plaudits and superlatives this veteran actor has received are all very well deserved. Dern is simply marvellous as the cantankerous old-timer Woody, who's stubbornness and determination drives the narrative. That being said, as good as Dern is, he's not the only one on form here. As his patient and good-natured son, Will Forte delivers solid support and another veteran actor in Stacy Keach brings a reminder of his outstanding qualities and begs the question as to why his talents are not utilised more these days. Added this already fine line-up is the marvellous (and also Oscar nominated) June Squibb, as Woody's pugnacious and passionately pragmatic wife. With Jennifer Lawrence already gathering awards for her performance in "American Hustle" and Lupita N'yongo seemingly the viewers favourite for her performance in "12 Years A Slave", I'm very surprised at how little Squibb's work has been mentioned. I've made my mind up that this unsung actress deserves to go home with the coveted golden baldy. She really is that good.
Primarily, though, this a father/son relationship tale played against the backdrop of a satirical depiction of Americana and it's beautifully touched upon. For a film that has a seemingly sombre and melancholic appearance, it's actually a bittersweet and often hilarious examination of family dynamics, memories and the passing of time which is reflected wonderfully in Payne's decision to shoot in black & white. It's a very wise move and cinematographer Phedon Papamichael's desaturated look not only reflects ageing memories but also the character and mindset of Woody himself, with his outlook and opinion on life consisting of few grey areas.
Payne has crafted a very rich and nuanced character study here, that's not only one of his finest moments but contains some of the best work by everyone involved and is rightly regarded as one the years best films.
After bringing the warped and surreal works of Charlie Kaufman's "Being John Malkovich" and "Adaptation" to the screen, director Spike Jonze carved himself a reputation for the off-beat. However, a misjudged adaptation of Maurice Sendak's classic children's story "Where The Wild Things Are" followed and I have to admit that doubts were raised about his abilities. I wondered how much of Jonze was in his earlier films or did he actually need Kaufman in order to construct something of substance? On the evidence of "Her", though, it's apparent that Jonze is the real deal and fully capable of crafting his own original work.
Spending most of his time writing love letters for others, Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) is a very lonely man in the midst of a bitter divorce. In order to find some sort of emotional connection he purchases the world's first artificially intelligent operating system known as the OS1 and going by the name of Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). As they interact, Theodore and Samantha grow closer and closer to the point that they fall in love. However, both of them struggle with the lack of physical interaction and their feelings of elation turn to doubt and inner conflicts.
The first thing that strikes you about "Her" is the gorgeous production and set design by K.K. Barrett and Gene Serdena. Along with cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema they achieve their vision of a not-too-distant future by indulging in lush pastel colours and dated fashion that's reminiscent of the 80's. It's at once both stark yet beautiful and draws comparisons with the work of Stanley Kubrick and his clinical approach to "A Clockwork Orange" or, more so, "2001: A Space Odyssey" in it's reliance on computer operated systems and voice interaction. The now infamous HAL9000 from "2001" is not that far from Samantha and the comfort and correspondence that it provides it's human counterpart. Also like Kubrick's aforementioned Science fiction classic, Jonze's concept of the future concentrates on the abstract and metaphysical. As a result, it taps into the zeitgeist and becomes an important and astute commentary on a generation connected to the world but foolishly ignoring the ability to connect personally. The growing intelligence of Samantha as an operating system also begs the philosophical question of Cartesian doubt and the relevance of free thought and emotion. As Samantha begins to explore her possibilities, Theodore and the other human characters are drifting towards an empty and soulless existence. This contrast allows Jonze to hint at the problems we can expect in our worrying obsession with technology.
On paper - or to the ear - the concept may sound ridiculous but on a visual and emotional level, Jonze has crafted a sublime piece of work here and it works primarily because of the irresistibly expressive voice talents of Scarlett Johansson and a superb anchoring performance by Joaquin Phoenix. His omission from the Oscar nominations this year is glaring and he can feel himself very unlucky to be so. He delivers the requisite shyness and vulnerability that brings Theodore's loneliness to the fore and it's also worth pointing out that he actually spends most of his time onscreen completely alone. For Jonze to fully realise his vision he needed an actor that could hold your attention and never allow the material to fall prey to absurdity and it's Phoenix's nuanced abilities that drive the heartfelt message to it's Brave-New-Home.
To quote Albert Einstein "I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots". We may not quite have reached that point yet but Jonze's social, Sci-Fi fable about our co-dependence, increasing disconnection and the technology that perpetuates it, is stark and thought provoking material. It's simply a wonderful piece of filmmaking and one of the very best of the year.
There has been no better or more consistent actor over the last few years than that of Matthew McConaughey. It's a fact! From someone who started a bright early career and worked with the likes of such quality directors as Richard Linklater, John Sayles, Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis, he soon drifted into the dreaded rom-com territory that's no better than drifting into obscurity altogether. His reputation wasn't amounting to his early promise and it seemed he would never recover. So when did it all go right for him then? Well, in 2011, he got back in tow with Linklater to do "Bernie" and followed that up with dark and blisteringly brave performances in William Friedkin's "Killer Joe", Lee Daniels' "The Paperboy" and Steven Soderbergh's "Magic Mike". It didn't stop there, though. He continued his solid work in Jeff Nichols' "Mud" and a brief but excellent role in Martin Scorsese's "The Wolf Of Wall Street" before finally delivering this awards laden performance in "Dallas Buyers Club". The resurrection of his career is now complete and McConaughey's work has now, rightfully, gained the respect of critics and viewers alike.
The true story of Ron Woodroof (McConaughey), a hard-drinking, homophobic, Texan Rodeo Rider who discovers one day that he's HIV positive. He's given 30 days to live but when he point-blank refuses to accept it, he learns all he can about the disease and gets involved in backmarket medicine that been proven to help, instead of the government issued treatment that was actually harming patients.
It's an extraordinary story that's depicted with heart and passion and being shot on a relative shoestring budget, adds to it's palpable sense of realism. Granted, with a script that's lay in limbo for 20 years or so, there are some creaks and cracks and some slight distortions of facts and dramatic licence on show but this is a film that has a voice and one that demands to be heard. In fact, it's still relevant today. Not just for the community of HIV sufferers but across the treatment of many illnesses. An example being, the government refusal to accept that cannabis can be used for medicinal purposes and it's oils are known to help in cancer treatment. This, of course, doesn't suit the pharmaceutical companies and the business to be made from their "legalised" products. Comparisons have been made between "Dallas Buyer's Club" and Jonathan Demme's "Philadelphia" but I reckon the comparison extends further to Michael Mann's "The Insider" and another example of the small man fighting corporate business, as Jeffrey Wigand did with the tobacco industry.
Comparisons aside, this is still a strong piece of work and it benefits massively from it's committed performers. Too often an actors physical transformation can suggest that that's enough to merit a great performance but McConaughey is more than that here. His acting, really is, top quality stuff and he's supported by Jared Leto with equally impressive commitment. These two actors have been sweeping the awards boards of late and if they go on to win the Oscar, I certainly wouldn't be arguing about it.
If you're aware of the work and tone of play-write Tracy Letts (who also provides the screenplay here) then you'll pretty much get the gist of this one. He was responsible for two of William Friedkin's finest moments; the dark, psychological horror "Bug" and the intense and disturbing thriller "Killer Joe". Now, this doesn't quite explore the depravity of those aforementioned films but it's no less powerful in capturing a similar claustrophobic tension.
Beverly Weston (Sam Shepard) is a hard-drinking poet who has been living with his cancer stricken wife Violet (Meryl Streep) and her addiction to prescription pills and venomous outbursts for too long. When he suddenly disappears, Violet calls upon their children Barbara (Julia Roberts), Karen (Juliette Lewis) and Ivy (Julianne Nicholson) to return home and offer some moral support. The problem is, there are no morals amongst this fractured family as past issues rear their ugly heads.
Following on from the likes of "American Hustle" and "12 Years A Slave" this is another of the years great ensembles. If the Academy Awards deemed it fit (and one day I hope they do) to hand out an award for the efforts of the whole cast then this could consider itself a serious contender. With ensembles of this kind, sometimes a story can struggle to bring depth to a particular one or two but in this case, it felt like every character had their purpose and few, if any, were left unturned. Streep heads the onslaught with as much gusto and grandstanding as she's ever done and acts as the catalyst to the revelations of the inner turmoil amongst her family members. She says what she wants, when she wants and refuses to yield to anyone around her - despite her own serious and damaging shortcomings. Roberts, her eldest daughter, doesn't fall too far from the apple tree though, and gives as good as she gets. Although unlikely to win the Oscar with such strong competition around them, both have been nominated and it's understandable why they have been. It's not just these two on show, though. There is excellent support around them; Chris Cooper is a real standout, as the uncle with a conscience, as is the oft missed Juliette Lewis as the dippy younger sibling and touching performances from Benedict Cumberbatch and Julianne Nicholson as affectionate cousins. The only one that seemed out of place was Ewan McGregor as Roberts' estranged husband. He wasn't bad, but he struggled to get a handle on a decent American accent and it made him stand out from the crowd ever so slightly. However, the family dynamics are still plain to see and the uncomfortable interactions are played out with such fraught tension - including a 25 minute, vitriolic, dinner scene that's one of the finest of the year.
What with the intense acting on show and the characterisation and attention given to each of them, it can often be overlooked how sharp and blackly funny the dialogue is and how intricate Letts' writing can be. It's not only masterfully acted but masterfully written as well. Letts' Pulitzer-Prize winning play has many layers and even though it sometimes comes across as slightly uneven due to director John Wells not being the most experienced in peeling those layers back, the actors certainly don't miss their chance and sink their teeth, firmly, into them.
There may be an overly pessimistic and downbeat tone to this dysfunctional family affair but it's containment of black humour manages to balance the venom and spite that can so often be found in family feuds and makes for hugely enjoyable theatrics.