The Immigrant (2014) – James Gray

22 01 2015

The Immigrant

First unveiled at the 2013 Cannes film festival, James Gray’s The Immigrant was originally primed for a strong awards run that same year, but was then suddenly put into release date limbo before quietly being released in just a few theaters earlier this year.  The studio has also gone back and forth on whether to market or campaign the film for awards honors. I bring this up because it seemed that the studio couldn’t decide whether or not they liked their own movie, and the film is such a mixed bag that I feel much the same way after a first viewing.  The film starts as a fascinating look into 1920’s immigrant life centering on a Polish immigrant who gets quarantined at Ellis Island, before a mysterious man bribes an officer to set her free.  But what was a brilliant period piece with an intriguing character study is derailed midway through, when the plot turns into a melodramatic love triangle. There are many beautiful moments, including the film’s final shot (might even be the best of the year), and the film is anchored by two amazing performances by Marion Cotillard and Joaquin Phoenix, but sadly the third act is completely at odds with the rest of the film in content and tone, making the overall package an odd one.

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Two Days, One Night (2014) – The Dardenne Brothers

21 12 2014

two-days-one-night-poster

The new film from minimalist directors the Dardenne brothers, who have won the Cannes film festival’s top honor twice in their career (only 6 other filmmakers have accomplished that feat since the festival began in 1939).  Their films, and especially Two Days, One Night, have always been deceptively simple on the surface, but underneath are raw and poetic and will leave you pondering its messages for long after.  Emotionally and stylistically, Two Days, One Night is a modern day counterpart to Bicycle Thieves.

This follows a working class woman who learns that she may be losing her job, as the staff have been asked to choose between receiving a substantial bonus or keeping her on the payroll.  She has the weekend to visit her 16 coworkers and try to persuade them to let her keep her job.  Through her struggle, which sort of plays out in a series of vignettes, we see glimpses into different family lives, the many ripple effects caused by her actions, her own character arc, and even a rounded portrait of the working class.

In casting Marion Cotillard, this is also the first time the Dardenne brothers have not worked with a complete cast of unknowns.  Marion Cotillard is brilliant, as she usually is, and it wasn’t until after the film that I realized how little dialogue she actually has, as she’s incredibly expressive, but without resorting to chewing the scenery or lashing out.  It’s a wonderful, subtle performance.

9.5/10

 





Inception

20 07 2010

Inception has been one of my most anticipated movies for 2010, and the bar for my expectations was incredibly high.  I am exceedingly happy to say that director and writer Christopher Nolan (Dark Knight, The Prestige, Batman Begins, Memento) did not fail to deliver above and beyond what I expected.  From start to finish every aspect of Inception is remarkable and breathtaking, from the score, pacing, and effects to the acting, dialogue, and concept.  It joins together all the best aspects of almost every genre (suspense/thriller, action, romance, comedy, sci-fi/fantasy, and a touch of horror) but combines it with an ensemble of super bad-ass yet believable characters that take on incredibly unorthodox protagonist/antagonist roles to create a truly unique screenplay that can be enjoyed despite/because of its complexities by all.  Sounds too good to be true, right?  Well, if you have any doubt in your mind it means you haven’t seen it yet.  And seriously: don’t miss this.

I think that if I allowed myself I could probably gush about every aspect of this film, but I will try to keep this short so I will attempt to only talk about up to three of the more important things about it I can think of: the relationship between Inception’s screenplay and the pacing of scenes, the acting, and the effects. 

Christopher Nolan’s screenplay is masterful, and the thing that impresses me most about it is the way in which he is able to weave together different plots in different settings while maintaining very believable characters who exist in all of them simultaneously.  And he manages to do this without compromising his strong concepts, especially when it came to the rate of time passing in each of the simultaneous scenarios.  He manages to do this especially via pacing, both with cuts and with real-time versus slo-mo.  I won’t say more than that; those who’ve seen it know what I mean, and those who haven’t simply must see it for themselves!

A screenplay is nothing though without those who would deliver its dialogue, and Inception is certainly not lacking in the cast department.  There is not one weak link in the film; everyone in it delivers nothing less than their best.  Cillian Murhpy plays arrogant perfectly, and has an incredibly tender and beautiful scene towards the end with Pete Postlethwaite.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Tom Hardy together have a great but subtle chemistry; I’m excited to keep on eye on the both of them and their future roles from here on out.  Ellen Page, who I’m not a particularly huge fan of in the first place, does remarkably well in this movie and (this was surprising to me) is not eclipsed by the action and high profiles surrounding her.  For me though, the two stand-out roles were Leonardo Dicaprio and Marion Cotillard.  Although Leonardo is a huge household name and is completely recognizable in Inception, the magic of his acting lies in the fact that he is a complete chameleon; Leo becomes Cobb through and through, and the caliber of his acting leaves no room for the audience to question this.  Cotillard is beautiful as always, but is above all powerful in her performance as she juggles the loneliness, madness, and furiousness of her character Mal. Together Marion and Leo are a force to be reckoned with.

Lastly, the effects.  The effects are present from start to finish of the movie, and sometimes they seem to permeate every scene.  But the thing that keeps the effects in Inception fresh, new, and so believable are their authenticity.  This authentic feel springs from the fact that so much of the movie is not done with a computer, but rather were done with actors playing out intricate fight scenes in real time in real sets; the overwhelming energy of each scene is easily translated because the actors were really slipping, sliding, banging and fighting most of the time.  For example, consider the hotel hallway scene (pictured below):

“To pull off the scenes, multiple hotel sets were constructed in a converted airship hanger north of London, most notably, a more than 100-foot hotel corridor that was able to rotate 360 degrees with the help of eight concentric rings, 30-feet in diameter, which surrounded the set. Capable of spinning up to eight revolutions per minute, the centripetal hallway was powered by two giant 225-kilowatt electric motors (the equivalent of two new Mercedes S350 V-6 engines). Working with stunt coordinator Tom Struthers, another “Dark Knight” veteran, Gordon-Levitt and the other stuntmen rehearsed within the rotating sets for over two weeks.

To create the effect of zero gravity, several other sets were constructed: vertical sets; horizontal sets; upside down sets; at the same time, the “weightless” actors were hung on wires, or supported by rigid poles like big Popsicle sticks, or even laid down in fiberglass molds built to fit their bodies.

One particular challenge for the sequence was a scene in which Arthur takes five weightless sleeping bodies, wraps a chord around them, and floats them down the hall into an elevator. “How did we do it?” Corbould asks. “Chris has sworn ourselves to secrecy on that one.””

And that’s just one particular set of action sequences in one of the simultaneously occurring plots!

Inception is simply the best new movie out there, and is officially a favorite of mine. 

My rating: 10/10

Evan’s review:

^More or less how I felt during the last 45 minutes of Inception.  Maryann pretty much covered everything, and I agree completely with her review, so for now I’ll just leave it at that.  I may add a write-up later, but needless to say I thought it was amazing.

10/10





Nine

16 01 2010

Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Marion Cotillard, Judi Dench, Penelope Cruz, Sophia Loren, Kate Hudson, Fergie, and Nicole Kidman.

Nine is the film adaptation of the Broadway musical which was based on Frederico Fellini’s masterpiece 8 1/2.  So to clear up any confusion, this is technically not a remake, even if it kind of feels like one.  The story follows Guido, a popular and well respected director who’s struggling with the production of his latest film as well as the many women in his life.  This story worked in 8 1/2 because Fellini was able to intertwine reality with dreams, fantasies, flashbacks, etc., so the viewer got a close but surreal look into Guido’s mind.  With Nine, everything’s done by the numbers, the story and the music both begin to feel redundant after about 30 minutes, and it all amounts to an epic waste of talent.

Daniel Day-Lewis is one of my favorite actors, and yet even my own bias towards anything he’s involved with won’t stop me from chalking this up as one of the biggest disappointments of 2009.  Probably should have seen it coming, seeing that I consider Rob Marshall to be probably the 2nd best (Ron Howard’s all over this one) example of an utterly mediocre and overrated Hollywood director.  The performances are all flashy and fun, the costumes are great and even a few of the musical numbers were nice, but it never gets much deeper than that.

RATING:  5/10





Inception to be released in IMAX

2 10 2009

inception4

Exciting news, but unlike a portion of The Dark Knight, it looks like the film isn’t being shot with IMAX cameras (as some, including me, had hoped).  This means that while Inception will surely look awesome in IMAX, it could be better.  Whatever, still awesome news and I couldn’t be more excited.