Archive for November, 2012

Anna Karenina

Posted in Drama, Romance with tags on November 30, 2012 by Mark Hobin

PhotobucketSalt & pepper, peanut butter & jelly, Keira Knightly & period pieces. These pairings go together as if they were designed to be united. I must admit I’m a bit biased in Keira’s favor when it comes to these types of costume dramas. She has a timelessness that seems to fit theses epics like hand in glove. Alright enough with the similes. Anna Karenina is an adaptation of the 1877 Leo Tolstoy classic, a tour de force of Russian literature. It’s a book of enduring popularity, beloved the world over.  Having been dramatized many many times, most famously in a 1935 version starring Greta Garbo and Fredric March, the question must be asked. How to make the text appear fresh and new for a modern audience?

Joe Wright has a singular vision. The English director has made the fascinating decision to lens the film in its virtual entirety on a single soundstage in an old abandoned theater. You might think this would be severely limiting, but surprisingly this is far from the case. The achievement is a set designer’s dream. The colors, costumes and cinematography complement a production that is so deliberately lavish in its presentation, I stopped breathing at moments it was so impressive. Italian composer Dario Marianelli composed the score, and it’s suitably lush romanticism complements the gorgeous visuals. I dare say, there is a carefully studied artistic expression here that I have rarely seen since Black Narcissus or The Red Shoes. High praise that I do not bestow lightly.

This is director Joe Wright’s third collaboration with leading lady Keira Knightly following Pride & Prejudice (2005) and Atonement (2007). By now the two clearly have a simpatico relationship that benefits the other. He utilizes her to full effect taking advantage of her strengths in the title role. She has a quality that suits any age, perfectly conveying the emotional depth the part requires. She isn’t the most likeable heroine. In fact I didn’t sympathize with Anna much. Given the hypocrisy on display, I think I was supposed to. However she is mesmerizing. The idea to cast Jude Law as Alexei Karenin, her stodgy husband, is an inspired choice. Normally Jude Law would be too young and handsome to depict a man 20 years her senior, but he sports a tremendous moustache and beard to hide his countenance. I quite enjoyed his portrayal as he comes across as rather sympathetic and not as stuffy as Karenin is often portrayed. He actually seems a pretty forgiving chap the way he puts up with her infidelity. Aaron Taylor-Johnson plays the dashing Count Vronsky. There is a slight narcissism in his performance. His posturing suggests he just might be as enamored with himself as he is with Anna. The youthful actor is virtually unrecognizable in blonde hair and blue contacts as the affluent rogue who sweeps her off her feet.  It wasn’t until after seeing the picture that I googled his (new) name and realized this was in fact the same star of KickAss and Savages.

Anna Karenina is a cinematic feast. Director Joe Wright’s re-envisioning of the cherished novel treats the material with the reverence it deserves, but represents the production in a hyper-realized theatrical treatment that beautifully befits the story. Wright does a masterful job at condensing Tolstoy’s 800 page monolith into a manageable 2 hour feature. He expertly juggles a large cast of characters giving each the time they’re due without taking away from the central plot at hand. I was completely wrapped up in Anna’s story. And the way he renders the narrative, is genius. It is a sumptuous sight to behold that embraces the super-stylized construction of a play. Office workers stamp papers in staccato unison to the music like percussion, and then uniformly stand and sit in succession. When Count Vronsky and Anna first waltz on the dance floor of an elegant ballroom, the resulting movement is a meticulously choreographed ballet. The dancing couples remain frozen then move when Anna and Vronsky pass by them. Its conceptual style may not enrapture some, but the cinephile in me was entranced. I enjoyed every shrouded whisper, every conspicuous glare, and every angry declaration. Anna Karenina is a celebration of the medium. It is the very reason why one escapes into the fantasy of a movie and out of the reality of everyday life.

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Hitchcock

Posted in Biography, Drama with tags on November 27, 2012 by Mark Hobin

PhotobucketI’ve never kept it a secret that Alfred Hitchcock is my favorite director. No other auteur has such a large number of great films. He has a knack for creating captivating situations and characters, then drawing you into a web of intrigue. I’ve seen roughly 28 of his works. Yet “The Master of Suspense” remains a bit of a mystery (no pun intended) to me. And so I approached Hitchcock with anticipation. The verdict? It’s well worth your time. However I don’t really know much more concerning the man himself than I did before.

Hitchcock is for people who love movies about making movies. John J. McLaughlin’s script is a lively (and uncomplicated) adaptation of Stephen Rebello’s acclaimed nonfiction book: Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho. The year is 1959 and he’s just coming off the unbridled success of North by Northwest. It’s a turning point in his career. Realizing his age and still wanting to remain innovative, he starts looking for his next project. He finds inspiration in Psycho – Robert Bloch’s fictionalized suspense novel based on the life of Ed Gein, the notorious serial killer. In fact Hitchcock has fantasy sequences woven throughtout the narrative, in which he has imaginary discussions with the murderer. The device is apparently designed to give insight into the filmmaker’s enigmatic psyche. Unfortunately that tool is woefully unsuccessful. It makes Hitchcock seem almost schizophrenic which I don’t believe was the intention. However the production more importantly addresses the director’s move from elegantly subtle suspense to more overt horror. That is a relevant discussion.

Hitchcock is bolstered by some marvelous performances. Let’s start with the supporting cast. Scarlett Johansson beautifully suggests old Hollywood glamour as Janet Leigh. James D’Arcy resemblance to
Anthony Perkins is uncanny. He displays a sort of nervous energy that is quite effective in a brief appearance. Toni Collette exudes sensible efficiency behind horn-rimmed glasses as Hitchcock’s personal assistant and Michael Stuhlbarg, so appropriately pathetic in A Serious Man, is surprisingly believable as Hitchcock’s pragmatic agent. Helen Mirren is engaging as Alma Reville, his wife, a talented screenwriter in her own right. Her importance in establishing her husband’s vision might be something of a surprise for some. There’s considerable marital tension between the two which occupies a significant portion of the plot. As Alma, Helen Mirren gets to let loose and really gives him a severe critique at one point. We’ve come to expect those scenes in every movie Mirren does now and she doesn’t disappoint.

Anthony Hopkins portrays the director as a genius undeterred. He also demonstrates the man’s behavioral eccentricities – he’s got a peephole in his office that looks into his leading lady’s dressing room. He’s constantly drinking wine and gorging on food. But these details feel like a lighthearted gloss on more troubling personality traits that aren’t fully addressed. Anthony Hopkins is adequate as titular character but I never truly felt as though I was watching anything more than a really good imitation. The makeup is peculiar. The foundation Hopkins wears has a mummifying effect on his face that leaves it somewhat expressionless. Hitchcock wasn’t known for smiling a lot anyways so I suppose the issue isn’t cataclysmic.

Hitchcock is a simple but satisfying watch. Its window inside creating one of the cinema’s greatest horror flicks, is well crafted. When the narrative focuses on moviemaking, it’s transcendent. As an observation of his creative process, its value is immeasurable. The scorn he received for choosing this subject, his decision to self-finance, fighting with the censors, and the marketing of a difficult film, are all fascinating scenes depicted. The relationship with his wife detailing the rough spots in their marriage, provides a fuller, though not deeper, portrait. As a biography of the man, it’s less successful. It never seems to delve deeply into what truly made this man tick. I could have done without the distracting facial prosthetics. The makeup is obvious. His features look fake.  Nevertheless, the assemblage of acting talents, including the superior supporting cast, is first rate. These actors make the material enjoyable. Parts of Hitchcock had me spellbound. I confess I had a nagging suspicion it would fall short as biography. However, as a movie about the making of Psycho, it’s notoriously entertaining beyond a shadow of a doubt.

Life of Pi

Posted in Adventure, Drama with tags on November 22, 2012 by Mark Hobin

PhotobucketLife of Pi is a thoughtful parable that will enchant the entire family. Its imaginative qualities suggest both the adventure of Robinson Crusoe and the stylistic elegance of The Black Stallion. But while Pi favorably recalls those stories, there’s a philosophical bent entirely its own that infuses the storyline.  Life of Pi is a stunning drama that blends photography, magical realism and religion into a unique chronicle about perseverance.

Our protagonist is the son of a zookeeper from Pondicherry, India. In the first part, Pi Patel reminisces on his childhood. He is named Piscine Molitor after a swimming pool in France where the water was “so clear, you could make your coffee there.”  However he soon shortens it to the mathematical symbol π when his classmates purposefully mispronounce the moniker as “pissing” in jest. No ordinary boy, Pi is naturally curious and intelligent. Having been raised as a Hindu, he is also equally drawn to the monotheistic religions of Christianity and Islam. His worldview is a seemingly incompatible mixture of all three. Concerned with worsening economic conditions and the fate of his zoo, Pi’s father decides to sell off the zoo animals and move his family to Canada. While traveling on a Japanese ship transporting a few of the creatures, their vessel capsizes in a storm.

Our saga is a contemplation on death and survival. Much of the action concerns Pi’s time marooned aboard a small lifeboat drifting aimlessly on the Pacific Ocean with a spotted hyena, an injured zebra and an orangutan. Breathtaking visuals heighten the images offered in both 2D and 3D prints. The cinematography is vivid and lush. CGI is used inconspicuously to allow the animal characters to act in a way that is credible. You’d think that placing most of the action within such a restrictive setting would severely limit interest, but this is where the real story begins. Another stowaway makes his presence known later, The relationship between Pi and Richard Parker, a Bengal tiger, form the vast majority of the plot. Their antagonistic interaction constitutes a very integral component. Will they be able to co-exist while still respecting the other’s space? Their relationship and Pi’s fight to stay alive becomes a deep reflection on perseverance.

On the surface, Life of Pi is a tale of survival involving a teenager from India set adrift on a boat with a tiger. Not having read the source novel, I can only asses what is presented here. If indeed, Yann Martel’s book is as unfilmable as everyone says, I can only applaud director Ang Lee. His adaptation is an unqualified success. Lee’s capacity to simplify Martel’s novel into a cinematic work that is easily accessible for all ages, is masterful. There is an artistry in the middle section of the movie that finds a quiet beauty in simply existing. Its themes of spirituality and romanticism are explored with a maturity and depth that will entertain adults, but still delight children. The narrative explores faith as an existential meditation that transports the viewer to a story far beyond a mere shipwreck. There are lingering questions as to what we’ve just witnessed. However, I wasn’t too preoccupied with such matters. I was absolutely enthralled with this spectacle detailing a gorgeous voyage of personal discovery.

Silver Linings Playbook

Posted in Comedy, Drama, Romance with tags on November 20, 2012 by Mark Hobin

PhotobucketOn the surface, Silver Linings Playbook looks like a generic romantic comedy. But you would be sorely mistaken. The individuals contained within are anything but your standard, mainstream-friendly crowd. These people are “crazy”. Ok so crazy isn’t exactly a PC word.  Pat Solitano is severely bipolar. So much so that even the very sound of the song “My Cherie Amour” is a trigger that will set him off into a violent rage. Mental illness isn’t a particularly easy subject to mine for laughs and not make the audience feel uncomfortable. But it is a very real issue that is often misunderstood. For a while Pat’s smug, self-satisfied tendency to say whatever pops into his head, is unpleasant. At first it’s difficult to embrace the character. Actor Bradley Cooper has often traded on these attributes in movies like The Hangover films where he’s meant to be glib and overconfident. Here however his easily excitable and smartass demeanor makes him a rather unlikeable bloke.  But interesting things happen in Silver Lining Playbook. As the story develops we start to slowly realize he cannot control these loathsome qualities and he becomes something of a tragic figure. This might possibly be Bradley Cooper’s greatest achievement in acting as it plays to his strengths.

Enter Tiffany Maxwell, played by Jennifer Lawrence, an equally damaged soul also in need of repair. Hiding behind a protective facade of harsh honesty and unrepentant attitude, she isn’t quite the sweetest peach on the tree either. She’s getting over the recent death of her husband. Following a bout with promiscuity that has the whole town thinking of her as the local harlot, she is trying to rebuild her life when she meets Pat and the two strike up a friendship. Pat still wants to reunite with his wife whom Tiffany sees occasionally. She wants a partner for a regional dance competition. The two agree to help each other out and a camaraderie of sorts is begun.

Silver Linings Playbook was directed by David O. Russell. Coming off the success of 2010’s The Fighter, he is clearly on a career defining high. This is his second outstanding feature in a row. I am finally willing to forgive him for I ♥ Huckabees. In addition to actors Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, both rising stars giving arguably their best performances to date, it also boasts Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver, Chris Tucker and Julia Stiles in one of the most impressive ensembles casts of the year. The script’s odd mix of mental illness and humor can be a bit off-putting in the beginning, but as the narrative wears on, the story takes root, and the personalities engage. It all builds to a satisfying and winning conclusion that manages to combine an obsession with the Philadelphia Eagles football team and a ballroom dance competition. Despite a foundation in genre conventions, this is anything but your typical rom-com. David O. Russell’s adaptation of Matthew Quick’s novel turns these archetypes on their ear. These people aren’t cute, they’re abnormal. Silver Linings Playbook remains an altogether winning slice of life concerning argumentative but brutally honest characters that don’t care whether you like them. The shock is that we surprisingly do.

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2

Posted in Adventure, Drama, Fantasy, Romance with tags on November 18, 2012 by Mark Hobin

PhotobucketThis review is not for anyone already an avowed devotee of the Twilight series. Breaking Dawn – Part 2 is very much a companion to the last film and will satisfy those who are transfixed by the relationship between Bella, Edward and Jacob. However if you’re a fan of acting, storytelling and drama, then this is not your movie. In other words, if you loved/hated Part 1, you’ll love/hate Part 2.

As its title suggest Breaking Dawn – Part 2 is a continuation of the events of Part 1. Bella is now a vampire. She’s stronger, her senses are more acute, and she can move – really, really fast. Bella and Edward Cullen have a new addition to their family, newborn daughter Renesmee – half human, half vampire, she is growing at an alarming rate. We soon learn that Jacob has imprinted on their daughter, which is sort of the equivalent of becoming her soulmate. I don’t know about you, but the idea that Jacob tried to woo Bella, didn’t succeed, and now he’s after her daughter is more than a little creepy. But I digress. The Volturi, a powerful coven of vampires that enforce the laws of the vampire world, have learned of the child and are now out to kill the Cullen clan. They believe her to be an immortal and extremely dangerous to them. Her very existence is something of a crime which must be punished.

Breaking Dawn – Part 2 is shockingly devoid of any excitement save for the ending. That’s the problem with stretching a single book that could have easily been a 1 hour TV show into 2 films that comprise almost four hours combined. But ah yes there’s money to be made. Anyway what do I know? Obviously, the filmmakers have properly catered to their audience because this earned a boatload of cash. It takes a long time to get to the point of the story, the impending threat of the Volturi. Before that we watch Bella put on contacts, arm wrestle Emmett and zip around in a gray blur featuring surprisingly bad special effects for a major Hollywood production. I dare you not to laugh at the infant Renesmee’s face that is hilariously expressive for a newborn baby. Director Bill Condon seems to finally fully embrace the camp value of this series, although it doesn’t really help. It all builds to a climatic battle that is as ridiculously over-the-top as the rest of the movie is lifeless. I mean the number of bloody decapitations are so numerous they kind of lose their impact.

The actors in Breaking Dawn – Part 2 do not act, they pose. Each scene is composed of beautifully airbrushed models that preen for the camera. CGI is utilized to make them appear even more beatific as they gaze blankly at each other. Like mannequins in a department store window they exhibit a beautiful display of fashion and hairstyles. The lack of action is dreary. There are seemingly endless scenes where people just stand idly by and stare. Once in a while they deliver vapid pronouncements uttered in flat American accents supposedly representing the youths of Forks, Washington but sound more like the denizens of L.A. Everyone broods giving boring exposition that explains the history of various tribes as they gather witnesses to the fact that their daughter does not pose a threat. There is no passion befitting the dialogue. Michael Sheen is the lone actor on hand that gives a performance. As the leader of the Volturi speaks his lines with the self importance that belies his position. At one point he lets out a delighted high pitched squeal that has more personality than the sum total of everything said in the entire production. I perked up a bit at that moment. Then fell back into a lethargic passivity that matched the rest of the cast.

Lincoln

Posted in Biography, Drama, History with tags on November 16, 2012 by Mark Hobin

PhotobucketBefore I even begin, let me assert, Daniel Day-Lewis is more Lincoln than Lincoln. Beyond a mere performance, he is a complete embodiment of the man. Physically, it was never a question. The actor already suggests the man with his angular features. The makeup is invisible as if this is how the actor has always looked. But aside from his amazing physical transformation, which we expect to be authentic, is the astonishing emotional transformation. He portrays Lincoln as a humble and wise man with a couple well-placed examples of humor. Day-Lewis’ decision to pitch Lincoln’s voice high and thin is speculative at best. We do not have video records to tell us how he spoke and acted. Yet debating whether the performance truly reads Abraham Lincoln is pointless without definitive records in this area. What is relevant is that he unquestionably embodies his temperament. Day-Lewis perfectly conveys the attributes one would anticipate of a man who would lead a nation through one of the most turbulent periods of American history. There’s never a moment in which we the audience doubt his depiction. Most everyone’s work is exemplary, but inconspicuous. Two performances that do scream “notice me” are Tommy Lee Jones as Radical Republican Thaddeus Stevens, a fervent abolitionist, and Sally Field as Lincoln’s wife Mary Todd Lincoln. They’re hard to miss. Lee Pace is also worth mentioning as the charismatic, but comparatively more understated, Fernando Wood, a Congressman whose sympathies lie with Confederacy.

This is not a biography of Abraham Lincoln. The adaptation is based on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. However where that novel dealt with his entire presidency, including his first term, Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner have decided to simply focus on the final months of his life in 1865. Lincoln has just been re-elected. The Emancipation Proclamation had been issued a year and a half ago. As an executive order of the president, its controversial nature is brought up. It made ending slavery a war goal, although the measure itself did not outlaw slavery. This then is the account of Abraham Lincoln’s struggle to pass the 13th Amendment and subsequently hasten the end of the Civil War. The amendment has already passed in the Senate, but failed ratification in the House of Representatives. He has now brought it back to a vote. Of the 150 minutes, the events largely deal with Lincoln’s reaching out to the House of Representatives to find the support he needs to pass the Amendment. His many exchanges with his cabinet shed light on his beliefs. Lincoln’s attempts to reconcile conflicting personalities within various legislative factions are what constitute the action.

Lincoln is Daniel Day-Lewis. He is extraordinary in the part and the actor’s contributions cannot be underestimated. He is virtually flawless in re-creating a President that we admittedly have never seen nor heard. Every choice he makes with his portrayal is impeccable. Volume, inflection and gestures are utilized to maximum effect. In Lincoln’s efforts to galvanize Congress in support of the 13th amendment, Day-Lewis make discussions interesting. He is utterly believable in his abilities to persuade and he makes a rather dry subject come alive. You have to commend Spielberg’s chutzpah. The plot isn’t set on the battlefields of the Civil War, but rather the political chambers of Washington. Lincoln unfolds much like a play with copious words spilling out of the mouths of old white men from the floor of the House.  Occasionally you can see the perspective of a modern mind behind Tony Kushner’s dialogue. For example, since it has been established that the Gettysburg address was “the speech that nobody knew” for years after it was uttered, Are we really to believe that four soldiers would be able to recite it back to him verbatim like fanboys? It is a most uncommercial movie in that it wrings drama simply over the deliberation of an idea. Lincoln’s desire to obtain 20 Democratic votes (or abstentions) for the 13th amendment IS the action as it were. Whether you find such a topic fascinating will determine your enjoyment. Personally, I think it’s an easy film to admire, but a difficult one to love. It is very much a history lesson with a message lovingly crafted and made clear by Mr. Spielberg. Still what the director endeavors, most assuredly sets it apart from any other dramatization about the 16th President.

The Other Son

Posted in Drama with tags on November 13, 2012 by Mark Hobin

PhotobucketJoseph is an 18-year-old who lives a comfortable life in a suburb of Tel Aviv with his parents. Given the t-shirts he wears, he‘s a big fan of 60s American rock & roll. He wishes to be a folk musician like Bob Dylan.  As a matter of fact, he kind of resembles the folk singer.  Yacine is a Palestinian boy, also 18 years old.  He has recently arrived home from Paris where he has been studying. Yacine and his Arab family live within the confines of the occupied West Bank. After Joseph’s routine blood test for military service yields inconsistent results, his doctor mother makes some inquires. The shocking surprise is that in the chaos of an emergency evacuation at their hospital back during the Gulf War, these two children were accidentally switched at birth. The Other Son won the Grand Prix at the Tokyo International Film Festival, their highest honor.

The success of a character-based drama rests on the strength of its performances. Jules Sitruk as Joseph from Israel, and Mehdi Dehbi as Yacine the Palestinian, are both likable and appealing. Their relationship never feels artificial. It develops naturally. But as good as they are, the real highlights are Emmanuelle Devos and Areen Omari as their respective mothers. Just study their faces when they learn of the mix-up at the hospital. They convey an emotional depth naturally from their expressions. They’re really good. In fact the whole cast is believable with the lone exception of Yacine’s older brother, Bilal. His misplaced anger upon learning they are no longer related by blood is forced and unconvincing.

Obviously the predicament that one’s child is not your own would be traumatic news in and of itself. But placing the babies on either side of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict and you have a most interesting twist to further complicate matters. French director Lorraine Levy sidesteps a deep discussion of the heated beliefs that underlie the political situation there. Instead the setting allows her to address various topics from a very intimate, personal perspective. In this way, the script suggests political disagreements between countries are more the result of governments fighting and less a cause célèbre of the actual citizens. This is a story about people. It asserts the idea that one’s entire identity can be arbitrarily defined simply by geography. How that personality can change over time is also explored. If there is a failing, it’s that the saga never fully resonates with the understanding needed to completely empathize with their plight. Despite the best of intentions, the setup feels slightly contrived. Although I was invested in their lives, I didn’t experience the clarifying breakthrough that I felt the narrative required. Yet the performances still ring true. The sincerity of the actors elevate the plot past a mere concept created by a writer into a fascinating picture worth watching.

Thank You!

Posted in Uncategorized on November 12, 2012 by Mark Hobin

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Amy Moss over at Movie Writing has recognized me for the month of November.

If you care to know a bit more about yours truly, visit her Web page and take a look. There’s a nifty little interview she conducted with me:

Fan of the Month

Her blog is a really fun site dedicated to (what else?) movies! I don’t normally post anything but film reviews here. I like to keep it simple. However I would be remiss if I didn’t at least express my gratitude for the mention.

Thanks Amy!

Skyfall

Posted in Action, Adventure, Crime, Thriller with tags on November 9, 2012 by Mark Hobin

PhotobucketA hard drive has been stolen that contains the identities of NATO agents working as undercover operatives around the world. Many lives as well as the very existence of MI6, the Secret Intelligence Service, are now at stake. M, the head of MI6, will stop at nothing to retrieve it. If that means endangering the life of James Bond, our beloved hero, so be it.

Agent 007 returns in his 23rd adventure, and the 3rd starring Daniel Craig. Skyfall is thankfully a return to the main principles of Bond. The narrative is appreciatively clean and simple with an eye toward tradition. Director Sam Mendes respects the hallmarks that separate author Ian Fleming’s character from the herd. It’s not afraid to revel in the qualities that established James Bond to be the super-spy that he is. Yes there’s gambling, drinking, meaningless sex, witty one liners, ridiculous chases and a hissable villain. Even the theme song by Adele is a complete throwback to the classic themes by divas like Shirley Bassey. Are these cliché’s? Definitely. That is what makes a James Bond film so captivating. If Skyfall is to be measured by its number of clichés, exercised in small doses mind you, this is a darn good entry in the cannon.

The film is highlighted by action that is a joy to watch. That opening chase is completely bananas as we maneuver by car through the streets of Istanbul and then on to motorcycles racing over the rooftops. Soon we’re traveling aboard a train where naturally there’s a tractor for Bond to drive while atop that locomotive. It’s a dizzying delight. Later he ends up on a skyscraper in Shanghai. Against a video backdrop of animated jellyfish he goes toe to toe with a French mercenary working for a criminal mastermind. Their fighting silhouettes are outlined by the glowing blue neon background. The scenes are intrinsically riveting, but what raises the level of excitement is that they’re also beautiful to look at. Cinematographer extraordinaire, Roger Deakins is at the helm. Well known for his work with the Coen brothers, he brings his impressive expertise to the proceedings.

Skyfall celebrates James Bond in a story that’s refreshingly easy to follow. This is back to basics – sure to satisfy the purists while entertaining newbies to the franchise. No disrespect to Sean Connery or anyone else for that matter, but Daniel Craig has now eased into the part like he owns the role. The entire cast is excellent. Javier Bardem is absolutely wonderful as Raoul Silva a pale, blonde haired villain you’ll love to hate. He’s really engaging in his flirtatious exchanges as the cyberterrorist.  And he has an intelligent back-story. His evil ways are actually quite understandable. Judi Dench, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Ben Whishaw all inhabit their roles with the confidence required. Even newcomer Bérénice Marlohe as “Bond girl” Sévérine is suitably enigmatic and alluring. The balance between lighthearted and serious is perfectly achieved in every scene. All of these elements combine with some nifty set pieces framed by some stunning cinematography. James Bond is back and he’s got style to spare!

Carrie

Posted in Drama, Horror with tags on November 6, 2012 by Mark Hobin

PhotobucketPoor Carrie White! She’s a sad, withdrawn high school teen. An outcast, she has no friends. Even the girl‘s religiously fanatical mother is abusive toward her, constantly scolding her for her “sins.” But Carrie is a special 16 year old girl. One day after a particularly traumatic event in the girl’s locker room, she becomes aware of telekinetic abilities. The ability seems to have been brought on by her maturing into womanhood. These recurring episodes will become more intense as the drama develops.

Carrie is highlighted by several memorable performances. Sissy Spacek is quite impressive as the shy, introverted teen. So much so that the narrative actually plays better as a coming-of-age story over the horror movie it is most often labeled as. She gives Carrie a genuine yearning for acceptance that is at times heartbreaking. Piper Laure is her overtly religious mother. It’s an incredibly over the top spectacle that seizes attention. It verges on camp. Viewed as a characterization of a Christian fundamentalist, she is ridiculously excessive. However taken as a portrait of a woman with severe mental problems, it’s more believable. She, like Sissy Spacek, was recognized with an Academy Award nomination. Not nominated but noteworthy is Betty Buckley as Miss Collins, the girl’s gym teacher. Displaying an understated approach, she provides much needed sympathy to Carrie’s suffering. Amy Irving, William Katt, John Travolta, Nancy Allen and P.J. Soles are all rather compelling in early film roles as her peers.

Carrie is a classic that makes any legitimate list of the best horror films ever made. It’s a regular staple of Halloween viewing. While there are definitely sinister elements, what surprises is how introspective our tale really is. As a chronicle of a girl’s maturation, it’s surprisingly effective thanks to Sissy Spacek’s moving depiction of the bullied teen. Director Brian De Palma dresses up a seemingly simple account with cinematic style. Pino Donaggio’s symphonic score is atmospheric and highly evocative. A frequent collaborator, the Italian composer is to Brian De Palma what Bernard Herrmann is to Alfred Hitchcock, even recalling that American legend in his work. Deep focus and split screen are used to strengthen the visual impact. Twice, slow motion is employed to draw a scene out. The gimmick might annoy some, but I found it to be remarkably potent in highlighting tension, especially in the horrific climax. I’ll admit the “everything goes BOOM” is a horror cliché, but it still is endlessly entertaining.