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"Do you know anything about a guy going around playing the harmonica? He's someone you'd remember. Instead of talking, he plays. And when he better play, he talks."
What a pleasure it was for me to finally get to watch this masterpiece which I kept on putting off because of its nearly three hour runtime. I was blown away by Sergio Leone's direction in The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, and that was the only film of his that I'd seen up to this point, but now I honestly can't say which of the two films I prefer. This is perhaps a better film because it is set on a grander and epic scale, but perhaps not as entertaining as the other. Both films have terrific performances with memorable characters and a masterful score composed by Ennio Morricone that accompanies Tonino Delli Colli's beautiful cinematography. Leone's exaggerated close ups show us the dirt and the sweat coming out of these grim people's faces and it's juxtaposed perfectly with these extremely long shots of the vastness of the Western valley. I can't imagine liking this film more than I already do, but it is clear that these films were made to experience them in the big screen and it's a pity I couldn't do so. There are also many memorable quotes in this film and I absolutely loved the screenplay. For the first 90 minutes or so I wasn't sure what direction the movie was heading and that is what I liked about this film since it had me guessing at some of the characters motivations and where the plot was trying to go. The characters have a lot depth and not even the villain is portrayed in a stereotypical way. Along with Unforgiven these are the three best Westerns I've seen so you can bet I will watch more of Leone's spaghetti westerns in the future.
The film couldn't open in a more spectacular fashion as the camera follows three gunmen waiting for someone at a station. Once the train arrives, the men don't find who they are waiting for and as they are walking away they hear someone playing a harmonica. It is the mysterious man they've been expecting (Charles Bronson) who asks them where Frank is. They've been sent to kill him, but Harmonica is too quick for their guns and finishes them off claiming they "have brought two horses too many." Then we are introduced to a recently married family man who is living on his deserted property with his three children and expecting his new wife to arrive that very day, but a group of bandits led by blue eyed Frank (Henry Fonda) kills them all one by one for reasons that aren't explained yet. The bride, Jill (Claudia Cardinale), arrives to find them all murdered and the officers find evidence that lead them to believe that the outlaw Cheyenne (Jason Robards) is responsible. The lives of these three men all intersect with Jill's and as the story develops the plot and mystery unfolds.
Sergio Leone had me engaged with the film from the very opening sequence and he sets the slow paced tone rather quickly. He takes his time to let the action unfold but thanks to the beautiful cinematography and the gripping score I was never bored for a minute. I was continually trying to guess what was going on and what the motivation of each character truly was. I was surprised that Leone decided to have Ford's character shoot a young kid in a very early scene in the movie, and I can only imagine what a shocker that must have been for audiences during that time who were used to seeing Ford play the hero. Bronson is mysterious but it is rather obvious from the beginning what his intentions are. He still delivers a gripping performance as this mysterious character and when his backstory is finally revealed it all pays off. It was Robards' character who had me guessing at times what his real intentions were. At first I believed he was going to be one of the main villains, but he delivers most of the funny scenes and was perhaps one of the best characters in the film. The breathtaking Claudia Cardinale may have not been given a strong female role, but she wasn't simply a damsel in distress and she seemed to know what she was doing. Once Upon a Time in the West is not a straightforward revenge story and it blends several tones throughout the film having you sympathize with each character at different points of the story. Leone maintained the thrilling atmosphere for its entire runtime and the final showdown is rewarding. This is an epic masterpiece and a new addition to my favorite movies of all time list that I'm glad I finally had the opportunity to experience.
"In the play you all know, Maloya Snake, he gave me everything I need to build a career on, my career."
Olivier Assayas and Juliette Binoche reunite after their previous collaboration (Summer Hours) in this wonderful meta film that has some slight similarities to Birdman. This could be the female version of that movie although not as entertaining and without all the technical achievements. It is also a little more subtle in its approach. The story begins on a train as reknown actress, Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche) is heading to Zurich with her personal assistant, Valentine (Kristen Stewart) to receive an award on behalf of a dear friend, Wilhelm Melchior, who is the reason why she is now a famous actress. Twenty years ago, he offered her the role to play the lead character in the stage and later on in the film adaptation of that play. On their way to Zurich they receive the terrible news of his passing which deeply saddens her. After the ceremony Valentine arranged a meeting with Klaus (Lars Eidinger) who wants Maria to play the older character in his adaptation of Wilhelm's novel. She continues to identify with the strong younger character and doesn't feel its correct for her to play the weaker role of Helen, but ultimately she agrees to do it. The lead character will be played by the promising young actress Jo-Ann Ellis (Chloe Grace Moretz) who has had her share of scandals with paparazzi's recently. In order to prepare for the role, Maria and Valentine travel to Wilhelm's former home in Sils Maria surrounded by the gorgeous Alps. Here, Maria is forced to reflect on her career and come to terms with the fact that she's an aging actress.
Clouds of Sils Maria is another film that reminds us that life imitates art because we are always finding ways to express ourselves and the means to do so is through art. Maria is forced to come to terms with her reality through the acceptance of this character she's not thrilled about playing because she doesn't seem to understand her. There are several scenes in which she is rehearsing the lines with Valentine that kind of blur the line between fantasy and reality. There were moments in which i didn't know if they were actually arguing or if they were simply reading the lines of the play. Those scenes were memorable and unique and I believe are at the center of this film. There are also some great conversations between the two about art and blockbuster Hollywood movies portraying the opposing two point of views. The film is rich with strong female characters exploring art and life in a rather authentic way. Clouds of Sils Maria may not be for everyone because it is slow paced and some scenes can become tedious if you aren't a patient viewer, but I found it a rewarding experience and a solid exploration of the passage of time and coming to terms with it. The classical music score (Pachelbel's Canon in D Major) also gives the film a touch of class. The scenery is also beautiful and it makes each conversation all the more profound.
Juliette Binoche has always been a wonderful actress so it comes as no surprise that she deliver yet another solid and touching performance. The real question everyone had was wether or not Kristen Stewart could hold her own next to this talented actress. The two share a lot of screen time together and at no point did I feel that Binoche was eating up the screen. Stewart gives in my opinion the best performance of her career (and I did really like her in Camp X-Ray and Still Alice) and she truly shines here. She won the Cesar (France's version of the Oscars) for best supporting screenplay and she proves that with the right material she can deliver solid roles. Chloe Grace Moretz also delivers a strong performance despite not having much screen time. She's hilarious in the scenes where Maria looks up her name on the internet and we get clips of the scandals she's been involved in. All in all, this is a solid film exploring some interesting subjects with solid performances and a beautiful landscape.
"Fault is a fracture. It's a place where pressure builds until it releases."
Leland Orser and Mary Elizabeth Winstead star together in this unique dramatic thriller written and directed by Winstead's husband, Riley Stearns. Faults is his feature debut and after this, there is no doubt he's going to be getting more offers because it is a very inventive drama that feels like no other movie because it changes and morphs as the story progresses. It is hard to classify this film because it doesn't feel like any other movie I've seen. Orser plays Ansel Roth, an expert on mind control, but it is clear that his glory days are long behind him. When we are introduced to him he's trying to reuse a coupon for his meal at the hotel where he's giving a speech on his new book about free will. There are very few people who have signed up for his seminar and he's evidently in deep financial trouble. An opportunity for redemption shows up when a couple (played by Chris Ellis and Beth Grant) ask Ansel to help them with their daughter. They say she has changed dramatically after finding a mysterious cult and that they are afraid of losing her. Ansel tells them that he can help but that it is going to cost them. He plans on deprogramming her by kidnapping her and having a five day session with her at an undisclosed location. The girl's name is Claire (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and she claims to be at the happiest point in her life so apparently it won't be an easy job for Ansel who is going through his personal lowest. What follows is a fascinating psychological control study with touches of dark humor and several twists along the way. The less you know about the film going into it the better off you are.
The production team behind Faults is the same one that brought us last year's The Guest and the reinvented slasher horror film You're Next so I was already excited about this film. They present unique projects that at times blend familiar genres or include some sort of surprise element along the way. Faults is a low budget indie film but it never ceases to amaze with a production design that sets the film somewhere around the early 80's although there is no mention of when the story actually takes place. The film is perfectly executed, it has an interesting premise, and the screenplay is beautifully written by Riley Stearns as it transforms along the way. It's not one of those films that tries to fool the audience and then presents a twist that no matter how many times you go back and rewatch it it simply doesn't make any sense. Faults isn't trying to fool us, instead it is simply telling a story that unfolds in unexpected ways as we reach the climactic finale.
Perhaps what stands out the most in Faults are the two leading performances. Leland Orser delivers the best role of his career and it is great to finally see him in a starring role. His character isn't someone we should really sympathize with considering he's simply miserable from the moment we are introduced to him. He's such a loser but somehow Orser manages to engage us and we want him to have his shot at redemption. We believe he actually knows his stuff on mind control and free will but life has given him an unexpected blow that he seems to be able to recover from. On the other hand Mary Elizabeth Winstead's Claire is enigmatic and we never know what she is really thinking. Winstead delivers one of the best performances of her career as well and the two turn Faults into a highly engaging and hypnotic film well worth your time.
Director Philippe Falardeau's follow up to his Oscar nominated film, Monsieur Lazhar, centers on a group of Sudanese children who have managed to escape the massacre of their village during the Civil War and walked nearly a thousand miles to a refugee camp in Ethiopia. At the time, thousands of Sudanese were forced to flee out of their country due to the war and find refugee in camps across Ethiopia and Kenya. After nearly thirteen years of living in poor conditions the kids were relocated to the United States along with other thousands of "lost boys." Mamere (Arnold Oceng), Jeremiah (Ger Duany), and Paul (Emmanuel Jal) are sent to Kansas where they meet Carrie (Reese Witherspoon), an employment counselor who helps them adjust to their new lives. Mamere's sister, Abital (Kuoth Wiel) on the other hand is sent to Boston because there was no family willing to take her in Kansas and for some strange reason she wasn't allowed to stay with the boys. The first 30 minutes of the film take place in Sudan as we follow the children's journey to safety and experience some of the horrors they had to go through in their long walk. Once the surviving children arrive in Kansas the film centers on their struggle to adjust to this new life. The Good Lie is an uplifting and inspiring story that ends up falling into the classic fish out of water tale once the refugees arrive in America. The film finds a perfect balance in tone mixing comedy with the inspiring and emotional drama and I was completely engaged with the story.
Contrary to what the poster may lead you to believe, Reese Witherspoon is only a supporting character in this film. The film centers on the four surviving Sudanese refugees, and these newcomers deliver solid performances. Duany and Jal are both former "lost boys' in real life making the incredible journey from their torn villages to becoming Hollywood actors. Both were even forced to be child soldiers and I'm sure their testimony is even more powerful than this film itself, but knowing where they have come from gives this movie an even more inspiring and uplifting feeling to it. Oceng gives perhaps the best performance in the film, and he too comes from a Sudanese background (his father was a lost boy who was relocated to England). The actors deliver some incredibly engaging performances and the camera many times focuses on their faces which say a lot about how they are feeling. The greatest strength of The Good Lie is that it manages to keep the center of the story on the Lost Boys and not make it all about how the Americans managed to rescue these people. That is why Witherspoon takes a back seat and lets the four Sudanese actors be the driving force of this movie. The title itself has deep significance and is explained later on in a touching scene involving Oceng's character.
It is almost impossible not to like a film when there is such an inspirational part of history that is being told through the camera lens. The film has many flaws and at times the opening events feel a little rushed, but it works because it allows the audience to fill in the blanks of the many horrors these children must have gone through without forcing the melodramatic moments and being too explicit. Seeing the grief and pain in the actors faces is enough to understand where they are coming from and what they are feeling. The scenes involving the cultural clash may seem a bit too generic because we've seen it played out many times before but the formula continues to work nonetheless and there are plenty of humorous moments. It's a shame not many people watched this story because it is one that is worth being seen. Witherspoon's strong performance in Wild may have led fans to watch that movie over this one, but I found The Good Lie to be the better movie of the two. The Good Lie is an emotionally engaging and moving film so if you happen to get a chance to see it, I'd recommend it.
The only part of my experience with the Cinderella movie that wasn't very pleasant was this seven minute short they screened before it. I actually enjoyed Frozen quite a bit and thought that the characters and music numbers were very interesting. Unfortunately, in this short despite having the same characters and actors voicing them, the musical numbers were far from memorable. It plays out more as a TV segment than an actual part of the Frozen universe and I honestly hope this doesn't receive an Oscar nomination because it doesn't deserve it. I don't know where they went wrong considering everyone is back from the original film (directors, song writers, voice actors, and so on), but the short simply misses the mark and isn't nearly as appealing as Frozen.
The short story is a sequel to Frozen centering around a surprise birthday party that Elsa is planning for her sister Anna. While she takes Anna through a treasure hunt, she asks Kristoff and Olaf to look after the birthday arrangements in the courtyard. Unfortunately, Elsa gets a cold and with each sneeze several cute little snowmen (Snowgies) appear and they all give Kristoff and Olaf a hard time as they try to watch over the courtyard. All this takes place while Elsa is singing "Making Today A Perfect Day" for her sister. I found the story rather weak, and the short lacked the heartwarming nature of the original film. When it comes to Disney shorts, this might be my least favorite.