Films viewed in 2011

Archive for the ‘Drama’ Category

491. Before Night Falls

In Drama on April 18, 2012 at 10:58 AM

Dir. Julian Scnabel

Episodic look at the life of Cuban poet and novelist, Reinaldo Arenas (1943-1990), from his childhood in Oriente province to his death in New York City.

MY TAKE

Following up from his impressive debut feature film Basquiat, writer and director (and celebrated painter) Julian Schnabel created another splendid achievement with Before Night Falls. The struggles of a Cuban writer in the 1960s, in a breakout performance by Javier Bardem, combines an impressive balance of hand-held grit and smooth artistic flourishes in the camera movements. The story is equally moving, providing a perfect portrait of a martyr to a cultural revolution. The film’s content earns it a special place in Queer Cinema, and one of Johnny Depp’s dual roles (the cross-dressing Bon Bon) risks making the straightest of men question where they stand.

 

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489. Two-Lane Blacktop

In Drama on February 24, 2012 at 4:52 PM

Dir. Monte Hellman

Story of two men drag racing across the USA in a primer grey 55 chevy.

MY TAKE

Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider may have gotten all the praise and cultural cache, but Monte Hellman’s thematically similar rebel road trip movie Two-Lane Blacktop from a few years later certainly holds up as a better film. Starring folk hero James Taylor in one of his only ever film roles, and Dennis Wilson (of The Beach Boys) as his mechanic, we follow the hard-luck gear heads as they “race” across the country. Warren Oats, however, easily gives the most compelling and memorable performance as their competition. The film is directed with incredibly calm confidence and provides just enough misdirected discontent to still connect with audiences 40 years later. The story in fact feels more influenced by films like The Hustler, and would certainly have inspired modern movie like Drive before anything like The Fast and The Furious.

482. Drugstore Cowboy

In Drama on February 14, 2012 at 12:09 PM

Dir. Gus Van Sant

A realistic road movie about a drug addict, his ‘family’, and their inevitable decline into crime.

MY TAKE

Gus Van Sant’s independent film hit Drugstore Cowboy is like the sober response to low-budget wannabe crime movies playing to a genre. Honest and immersed in the world of petty thieves and hard-core junkies, the script keeps the dramatic stakes heavy, but also infuses the right mix of comedy and dispassion to limit heavy-handed storytelling. Matt Dillon charismatically leads the gang of losers, while Heather Graham makes her first feature film role count as a beautiful and naïve fated friend of the fiends. Kelly Lynch, on the other hand, lets a potentially star making role slip through her fingers and doesn’t leave the impression her character is supposed to. Some films are, in fact, too good for a cowgirl.

480. This is England

In Drama on February 10, 2012 at 11:57 AM

Dir. Shane Meadows

A troubled young boy is adopted into a group skinheads who become like his new family.

MY TAKE

Young Thomas Turgoose has a face that will instantly break your heart. Shane Meadows uses those features brilliantly in his stirring, powerful and determined feature that’s about so much more than just a boy losing his father. This is England uses a seemingly straightforward coming-of-age formula to explore a British culture struggling to accept its loss of leadership in the world. Ambiguously painted secondary characters help us see the story in much more than black and white terms, while Stephen Graham provides equal measures of comfort and menace to carry us down his dark path. Gritty and uncomfortable, the film hits all the right notes to keep us invested right up until the end.

477. Doubt

In Drama on February 7, 2012 at 3:38 PM

Dir. John Patrick Shanley

A popular priest’s ambiguous relationship with a troubled 12 year old black student is questioned by the school’s principal.

MY TAKE

Forgive me, John Patrick Shanley, but I was skeptical that a playwright adapting his own material for the screen as both writer and director would do much to elevate the material. I was wrong. Doubt is certainly not an indulgence of style, but it also never feels restricted by the limitations of its confined Catholic school setting. Casting Philip Seymour Hoffman as yet another (alleged) creep felt almost lazy, but he nuances his performance with a fierce pride and progressive liberalism that forces us to rethink our prejudices. Meryl Streep is equally infuriating as we alternate between admiring and abhorring her rigid good intentions. Amy Adams rounds out the triumphant acting triumvirate with a malleable naïveté only her doe eyes could make believable.

475. Puncture

In Drama on February 7, 2012 at 1:51 PM

Dir. Adam and Mark Kassen

A David and Goliath law drama about a drug-addicted lawyer who takes on a health supply corporation while battling his own personal demons.

MY TAKE

After years of specializing as the hunky hero in fantasy action movies, Chris Evans takes a dramatic reality check in Puncture. Even more than most out-of-their-depth lawyer pictures, the film revels in stacking the odds against the two protagonists not just in terms of finances and resources, but personal demons. Drug addicted and abusively determined, we follow the story to what we can only assume will be a logical end, albeit with unexpectedly tragic consequences. Brothers Mark and Adam Kassen do this true story justice as co-directors, and manage to balance the creative liberties with enough ambiguity to not tie too neat a bow on this shady tale of personal and corporate corruption.

472. Happiness

In Drama on February 3, 2012 at 2:30 PM

Dir. Todd Solondz

The lives of many individuals connected by the desire for happiness, often from sources usually considered dark or evil.

MY TAKE

Happiness is likely the most disturbingly watchable film of all-time. With uncomfortable ease, Todd Solondz, a master at dissecting raw human impulses, is able to take us into the depths of sexual deprivation with an unparalleled balance of humour, understanding and dispassion. The storyline of a suburban father pedophile is certainly the most shocking, but there are so many incredible performances here that it’s hard to isolate what makes this film such a masterpiece. Suffice to say, incest, murder, rape, divorce, isolation and general misery have never been so pleasantly combined and packed such a unexpected emotional punch.


466. We Bought a Zoo

In Drama on February 1, 2012 at 3:46 PM

Dir. Cameron Crowe

A father moves his young family to the countryside to renovate and re-open a struggling zoo.

MY TAKE

If you think the title of Cameron Crowe’s family (non-)drama We Bought a Zoo already tells you everything you need to know about the film, you’re right. And I’m not just talking about the plot. Everything from the script, to the acting, to the direction is purely perfunctory. Matt Damon feels caged into a thankless role, showing only fleeting moments of interest when he’s fed the meat of a “climactic” father-son exchange. Scarlett Johansson has to keep reminding us there are even animals around, while Patrick Fugit struts around hoping he’ll eventually get a line of dialogue. Many more liberties would have had to be taken to free this true story from being simply a one-trick pony.

 

456. If….

In Drama on January 27, 2012 at 2:03 PM

Dir. Lindsay Anderson

In this allegorical story, a revolution lead by pupil Mick Travis takes place at an old established private school in England.

MY TAKE

If you are as eternally enamoured with Malcolm McDowell’s performance in A Clockwork Orange as I am, you owe it to yourself to see his first film If…. Lindsay Anderson’s bitingly satirical send-up to boys schools is packed with wonderful dialogue and sinister undertones that lead to an explosively shocking finale.  Chaptered and sometimes surreal in it’s telling, the counter-revolution narrative is easy to misread by today’s nihilistic standards of school violence. X rated in England at the same time it won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, the film is still a riot to watch 44 years later.

454. We Need to Talk About Kevin

In Drama on January 26, 2012 at 10:11 AM

Dir. Lynne Ramsay

The mother of a teenage boy who committed a terrible crime tries to deal with her grief – and feelings of responsibility for her child’s actions.

MY TAKE

Just talking about the premise of We Need to Talk About Kevin might be a spoiler. Few films withhold information for so long, and still manage to keep you unwaveringly interested. Writer and director Lynne Ramsay has absolute control of her subject matter, while Tilda Swinton delivers an uncompromisingly complex performance of a mother struggling to love her despondent, manipulative and ultimately rotten son. All three actors who portray Kevin through the years are impeccably cast and pull off the rare trick of never breaking the verisimilitude of an aging character.  The cinematography, sound design and art direction are also wildly effective, always striking the perfect balance of being both chilling and beautiful.