Gone Baby Gone, review

Ben Affleck’s directorial debut might be nearing the ten year mark, but does that diminish the power and effecting ability as a director the actor holds over his audience with his kidnapping thriller Gone Baby Gone? Although this might be a rhetorical question, in an attempt to swiftly get ones point across, the answer would be no. Stylish in ways, underplayed in others, and with a narrative and lead performance that genuinely stays with you following the end scene, Affleck’s mastery behind the camera is seen so prominently with Gone Baby Gone, and that mastery continued with Argo and The Town – both of which were met with acclaim.

Its not Ben we see as lead protagonist here though, it’s his brother Casey. Younger in years, yes, but lesser in talent? Not a chance. Casey is so believable in his role as PI Patrick Kenzie that the word method springs to mind and his identity as a real person is never questioned during the entire run-time. This won’t be an overly-long big-up of this fantastic film, for many of you will have already seen it – and therefore know its worth. What this will be, is a nod to a daring, intelligent and thought-provoking feature full of striking performances both in front of – and behind – the camera.

Gone Baby Gone is a straight adaptation from Mystic River and Shutter Island author Dennis Lehane’s novel of the same name. Centering on two PI’s, Affleck’s Kenzie and Michelle Monaghan’s Angie Genaro, the narrative combines two stories of abduction that opens up a dark and murky underworld of police corruption and, more interestingly, the conscience that comes with right and wrong. Its not always an easy watch – in fact for the latter half, it really isn’t – but if you can overcome the difficulties of a narrative that deals with missing children, drug dealers and pedophiles, you will appreciate the starkness and originality – and importance – of Affleck’s feature.

In dealing with such an intense narrative, you need fierce performances. Affleck demands that from his cast, and they in return deliver. Morgan Freeman, Ed Harris and Amy Ryan support, the latter received an Oscar nod for her role as the drugged-up, alcohol-fueled mother of missing child Amanda and she certainly deserved it after creating a character who spectators both sympathise with and loath in equal measure. The ensemble are strong, and as a viewer you can never be sure who to trust – which is always refreshing amongst a flock of new releases each year that are quite predictable.

The shining star, though, is Casey Affleck. He teems with realistic emotion and heart, he is truly likeable, and he portrays an everyman – from a rough neighborhood, yet he’s worked hard to produce a successful career for himself. Kenzie is the man in the middle, connecting the residents of Dorchester, Boston, to the middle-class cops who lead the case. The underlying message seems to round out to a questionable upper-class society, and an almost forgotten lower-class who are made up of criminals and addicts, along with their neglected children.

Perhaps a little pretentious in length, but basically perfect in every other aspect, Gone Baby Gone is no doubt the Affleck brothers own gem – and a gem for critics and audiences alike.

Ryan Coogler’s Fruitvale Station

With nothing planned this evening and Netflix at my disposal, I decided to sit down for a little movie night. Usually, I’d go for a film I have already seen and enjoyed with want for a quick decision. Tonight, I chose something different. Having heard of Fruitvale Station through the grapevine I chose to give it a go, knowing little about the film apart from it being based on a true-story that involved police brutality. At only one hour and twenty-five minutes long, I can safely announce that this film will never be forgotten. Not by me, nor by anyone who has taken the time to sit and experience Oscar Grant 111’s last hours.

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ariana neale and michael b. jordan in coogler’s feature

On New Years Eve 2008 Oscar Grant spent the day like he perhaps usually would; he dropped his daughter Tatiana to school, he spent the evening with his mother, girlfriend and family, and he celebrated the New Year with friends in San Fransisco, watching as the fireworks took flight. Returning home, Grant was involved in an altercation on the train. The train stops, police arrive, and Grant – and his friends – are all picked out and sat down. From that moment, whatever happened before becomes irrelevant. The police act on a basis that can only be described as racial prejudice, and Grant is shot in the back. On January 1st 2009, Oscar Grant lost his life. His daughter, Tatiana lost her daddy. His girlfriend Sophina Mesa, lost the father of her child. His mother, Wanda Johnson, lost her son. The police officer that committed homicide? Well, he was sentenced to two years in prison and received eleven months. Fruitvale Station is a kettle boiling steadily, quietly waiting to openly, boldly, bravely, confront the misjustice of the corrupt police officers, and the racial stigma in contemporary America. Many know it still exists, only few are brave enough to address it – Ryan Coogler does it here with empathy and authority.

Michael B. Jordan portrays Grant, and it’s impossible for any critic or audience member to comment on whether the actor has done him justice. That is for Grant’s family to decide, but I get the feeling that had they disagreed with the performance, Fruitvale Station wouldn’t of met its audience. Coogler’s film isn’t an exploitation piece, it a pivotal – and poignant – look at an unfathomable crime. A crime that was acted out by someone citizens of America, no matter what race, or social background, should be able to depend on – and more importantly, trust. The crime itself is just a small scene within the film, the feature is dominated by moments of Grant with his family, the love that they shared together. Coupled with this, are asides of a pensive man, looking back on his time in prison as he decides to once and for all turn away from his life of crime. Coogler doesn’t portray Grant as a perfect 22 year old guy – that would of been so easy. Instead, Grant is seen to be there for his family, desperately trying to attain financial stability. He has a temper, he’s done time, but he’s human. Grant isn’t made out to be a heroic figure, but someone trying to be there for those around him. A positive and upbeat character, a man who shouldn’t of had his life stolen from him so early.

michael b. jordan in fruitvale station

michael b. jordan in fruitvale station

Director Coogler is just 29 years old himself, and was a graduate student when Grant was shot and killed. Coogler knew instantly that he needed to tell the story of what happened at Fruitvale to the rest of the world, and that he successfully did. Going on to win two awards at Sundance, Coogler’s first directorial feature is as powerful and moving as anything from a helmer who’s been in the business for years. Ludwig Goransson composed the films score, which the musician himself describes as “Haunting.” – that, it is. Quiet and instrumental, the score plays an important role in reminding the audience of what is to come, which doesn’t lend to a feeling of impending doom, rather a sense of urgency that Grant see’s his family. Acts of prayer, intimate yet never intrusive, witty scenes of Jordan as Grant brushing his teeth with his daughter (portrayed here by young talent Ariana Neale) for the last time – these are so straightforward, yet they take on a new importance here. Octavia Spencer as Wanda is a treasure, she possesses the faith and hope of a mother. She is as natural as any parent, who all channel so much love to those around them. Spencer’s final moments in the film are so special, full of depth and respect – no overacting in sight here.

There is so much powerful emotion in Fruitvale Station. This emotion might come from the total obscenity of what took place on January 1st. It might also come from the careful and thoughtful manner in which Coogler and team went about adapting such an event for a mass audience. Beyond this, it could be based on the tragedy of the realization that America is still a divided nation. Whatever it is, it’s an accomplishment from the cast and crew who so tentatively put together this crucial feature.

Friday the 13th, review

So it’s now six years old, and it probably isn’t any better received now then it was upon its 2009 release, but what do you expect when stumbling upon Friday the 13th on Netflix anyway? You certainly don’t expect Academy standard acting and a narrative that’s unique and original. But fans of this classic franchise – and fans of B-movie inspired horror – will relish in the frivolous nature of Marcus Nispel’s foray into the world of Jason Vorhee‘s and Camp Crystal Lake.

The plot? Simple. The run-time? Short. The cast? Practically unheard of. These components are always to be expected in low-grade horror, especially when it comes drenched in gore and sex. Jared Padalecki (of Supernatural  fame), Amanda Righetti and Jenna Panabaker lead the young cast as teens visiting Crystal Lake.

Those educated on the original movies of the 1980’s will be aware of the settings history, which in each scenario has lead to a masked Vorhee‘s hacking up visitors in a number of gratuitous ways. Blood-splattered and not exactly intelligent, Nispel’s re-working of the well-known (and somewhat formulaic) franchise, isn’t without its flaws. Flawed doesn’t mean unwatchable, though, and if you enjoy the genre, you’ll enjoy this.

As a spectator, you know whats coming and you could practically write the script yourself (sorry Damian Shannon and Mark Swift), but the writers have added witty asides in relation to the casting of culturally diverse actors. These moments are supported by Arlen Eescarpeta – an actor well-versed in horror having starred in the equally trashy Final Destination 5.

It’s a simple feature, with one or two genuinely intense scares, that sits in the Freddy, Michael Myers and Ghostface category.

 

 

 

Actor profile: Brad Pitt

Brad Pitt has starred in 46 films to date, with four just announced or in pre-production. With 6o awards under his belt, including one Academy Award, Golden Globe, Emmy and BAFTA (impressive, right?), Pitt is beyond established in Hollywood; he IS Hollywood. From films exploring the empowerment of women, to Irish Gypsy fighters, to Greek mythology and voice work, the actor has cemented himself as a compelling force within the film industry – one who shows no signs of letting up anytime soon.

eli roth and pitt in inglorious basterds

eli roth and pitt in inglorious basterds

Pitt started on TV movies and shorts in the 1980’s but his career on the big screen came in the 1990’s and his reputation as an actor with real ability was built over several films. These films, Thelma & Louise (1991), True Romance (1994), Se7en (1995), Twelve Monkeys (1995) and Meet Joe Black (1998), exemplify what Pitt does best – diversity. Never one to do the same thing twice (although recent years may be proving different), the actor made a name for himself during this decade, show-casing his want for sundry roles in provocative features that didn’t necessarily follow the rules.

Often known for playing the good guy, Pitt threw himself into a role no one saw coming following his turn in popular romantic drama Meet Joe Black. As Tyler Durden in cult favourite Fight Club (1999), the actor was recognised universally as the character and quickly became a favourite of many. Tyler gave Pitt another string to his bow, and the performance has gone on to become one of his most instantly recognisable amongst audiences. Brutish, manipulative and surreal, Pitt gave spectators a glimpse at the alter-ego of the actor himself, and of Ed Norton’s untitled protagonist. Fight Club also marked the second pairing of director David Fincher and Pitt and exemplifies the latter as a directors actor.

brad pitt as tyler durden in fight club

brad pitt as tyler durden in fight club

Following the impressive (albeit somewhat controversial) reception of Fincher’s fighting phenomenon Pitt turned his attentions toward a character who is not only one of the most infamous of any role he has played to date, but possibly one of the most likeable – and enjoyed – by fan’s and audiences. As Irish bare-knuckle boxer Mickey O’Neill  in Guy Ritchie’s unabashedly British flick Snatch (2000) Pitt continued to become a multi-layered thespian with many dimensions that were yet to be unraveled. Covered in tattoos, with an accent so realistic and strong its almost impossible to understand, Mickey not only reminded audiences of Pitt’s want to continue down a diverse and unexpected path, but his want to not take himself – or be taken – too seriously. Snatch is a classic example of Brit comedy, but one that successfully appeals to the masses. Pitt’s appearance amongst the ensemble cast helped to bring the American’s on board, and while it may of originally appeared as inaccessible to US crowds, Snatch became a Box-Office success story.

pitt as mickey in guy ritchie's snatch

pitt as mickey in guy ritchie’s snatch

After Pitt’s stint in kooky indie projects by genre directors, he became blockbuster gold and went on to star in several hits over the next five years including Ocean’s Eleven (2001), The Mexican (2001), Troy (2004) and Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005). More than an on-screen presence, Pitt began his own production company in 2005 with the release of Troy. Known as Plan B (simple yet entirely appropriate), the venture has produced 20 films including Pitt’s own Moneyball (2011) and 12 Years a Slave (2013), as well as Scorsese’s The Departed (2006) and Matthew Vaughn’s comic-book adaptation Kick-Ass (2010). Films made in conjunction with Plan B reiterate the actors courage within the industry to not follow the rules. Narratives covering travel, slavery, sport, controversial mob violence and more all exemplify Pitt’s willingness to support out-there ventures for different demographics. The latter point reminds us all of the actor’s place within cinema aimed at an adult audience – apart from voice work on animated features, Pitt is usually known for his attachment to violent flicks. We all remember that Jared Leto scene in Fight Club.

2009 saw a new partnership which was brief but effective. Eli Roth, Quentin Tarantino and Brad Pitt joined together for World War 2 art-house satirical comedy Inglorious Basterds. Made up of English, French and German, Pitt starred as Aldo Raine, a Nazi-scalping red-neck lieutenant with a craving for blood shed. Embodying a mixture of Carry On eccentricity and a classic war hero, Raine marked the start of the actor’s career in war epics on the big screen. In 2014 came emotional tank drama Fury and now fans eagerly await War Machine which will yet again see Pitt play an infamous soldier – this time in contemporary war Afghanistan.

From figures of the imagination to con-men, Brad Pitt has shown that he can give an all-star performance time and again. Now affiliated with online streaming service Netflix, he is showing that he can move with the digital age and continue as top-dog not just in Hollywood, but in the competitive and ever-changing film industry.

Just a ramble, really

Awards season is an exciting time for anyone immersed in the movie and entertainment world. It’s a time to celebrate the vast array of diverse cinema released each and every year. Or is it? This year’s BAFTA’s were presented as an awards show genuinely concerned with heralding unique independent cinema as well as mainstream films that are able to reach larger audiences. Many who watched the BAFTA’s may of been unaware of the films of Mike Leigh, the power of Linklater’s twelve year project with Boyhood or the great creative minds behind spectacular productions such as Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel. The BAFTA’s, this year hosted by witty British treasure Stephen Fry, are often seen as a precursor to The Academy Awards in the sense that you can perhaps guarantee the trophy’s will be handed out to the same hands. In the past this has been somewhat true – not this year. Boyhood received one award, and Birdman dominated.

Without questioning the validity of either award ceremony, I simply wish to say that with each year The Academy Awards (apparently the most prestigious night in film) are seemingly becoming less about true talent, and more about mass appeal. All we have to do is remember the Greats who never received a trophy, and when they did it was for a strange role that didn’t really seem fitting as opposed to previous performances; Martin Scorsese being a great example of a director who, after decades of producing career-defining films and changing the face of cinema, finally had his moment in the sun but with a film that perhaps didn’t challenge audiences quite in the same way as say Goodfellas or Casino.

The Academy Award’s are of course not at all bad, and this year stood as a platform for many winners to call for equality surrounding societal issues such as misogyny, racism and feminism. Further to this, if a film wins its likely many will seek that feature out – which in turn means more revenue for an industry that is becoming dominated by illegal downloads and on-demand services which seem determined to destroy the dwindling cinema industry. No one can really define the term ‘independent’ anymore, like no one can really understand why Netflix, a website that owes its success to film and television, wishes to take away from the spirit of the business (i.e, the experience of theater-going).

I don’t profess to be the most knowledgeable on the woes of the industry, or the ins-and-outs of the latest deal to produce a film franchise based on light pornography (which although might be based on the worst-written literature in recent history, has certainly helped the Box Office out), but I do profess that I love film. In recent years my love for indie film has expanded, and my view that the studios main agenda to churn out $100 million blockbusters that were finished in six months and have a script that could be written by my cat, is pretty annoying. Don’t remake Point Break and turn a cult classic into something it was never meant to be – a multi-million dollar project. Sit down and open that script that a talented eighteen year old with a passion for film wrote, and poured their soul into – and create the next film that truly means something, because that is what is really missing from the majority of contemporary cinema.

Dallas Buyers Club, review

Released late 2013 and winner of three Academy Awards Jean-Marc Vallee’s critically acclaimed Dallas Buyers Club is a biopic of sorts, charting the real-life story of Ron Woodroof (portrayed wonderfully by Matthew McConaughey) wh0, when diagnosed with AIDS, takes treatment for not only him but other sufferers into his own hands. The film, at 116 minutes, is tough at times – prepare for real emotion and some mixed feelings when it comes to Woodroof. This is such an important story to tell and despite potential difficulties is essential viewing. Lifting the lid on AIDS Vallee takes the stance of a non-judgmental director, its up to you how you feel about Woodroof and his controversial lifestyle, but one thing is for certain – you care, and you feel sympathy for what people with this illness had to go through before helpful treatments became accessible (a light is also shined on the prejudice they unjustly received).

Set in 1985 when these real-life events took place we are positioned with Ron, a man who leads a lifestyle of hard drug use, gambling and precarious sexual endeavors. Having suffered from several blackouts and then an accident at work Woodroof is told he has AIDS and is given thirty days to get his affairs in order before his illness will kill him. Refusing to accept this horrible diagnoses he takes part in a drug test for AZT (which at that time was one of the only drugs approved to treat AIDS in America). Shortly after Woodroof meets various other sufferers including the charismatic and rather beautiful Rayon, a transgender male. Rayon, played by Jared Leto (unbelievably good in this role) is a juxtaposition to Woodroof, and is due credit to the change in Ron’s attitude to life, and a change in his morals which is highlighted throughout the course of the film. The majority of Buyers Club focuses on Ron’s illegal drug trade (he smuggles in ddc and peptide T, both of which improved his health) which helped to prolong the lives of many AIDS patients as well as his own (Ron lived for seven years after his diagnosis was originally given to him). Interestingly, it is the medical system in America that seems to be under attack rather than Woodroof’s initial lifestyle choices.

The most intriguing element to this riveting true story is the relationship between Ron and Rayon. Leto plays the latter with a sterling heart and love for life; unafraid to be different. Leto’s performance lends to some heartrending moments, and one of the best performances (if not THE best of 2013) which deservedly led to him winning Best Supporting Actor at the Oscars. McConaughey’s onscreen chemistry with Leto is wonderful at times, these two are a pair that couldn’t be further apart but during the course of the film they help each other in an array of ways which leads to a strong friendship. Rayon in particular changes Woodroof’s opinions on homosexuality for the better which is best exemplified in a scene in a supermarket; A man Ron knows verbally insults Rayon which leads to a fight because of Woodroofs refusal to accept what he has just heard. It is at this moment that you know there is a heart somewhere in Ron, but perhaps he has just been too afraid to show it.

promotional still for dallas buyers club

promotional still for dallas buyers club

McConaughey is a treasure as the protagonist of the film in a physically and emotionally demanding role (he lost three stone in weight to portray Ron at his most frail), never overplaying as someone who has a tremendous change of perspective (going from a man who is not particularly likeable to someone who cares for others more then he does himself). He also plays Ron with a charismatic charm about him – even in his darkest moments he still cracks a smart comment or some kind of joke. McConaughey and Vallee are never judging Woodroof, who certainly behaved in ways which could be looked down upon, its up to those watching what viewpoint they end on. Supporting the two main actors is Jennifer Garner, an actress who is often overshadowed or perhaps forgotten for the roles she plays but steals the scenes she is in because of her fragility and kindness. Those two things are adopted as she embodies Dr. Eve Saks, a woman who refused to quietly ignore the wrongdoings of the American medical system at that time.

The whole film is full of tender moments which are often challenged by ones of the harsh reality of what these people were dealing with. Humanity and friendship are of great significance in Dallas Buyers Club and the relationships played out are touching to watch and heartbreaking to see end. A particular scene in a restaurant between McConaughey and Garner shines with personality and aura and it feels as though you could be placed there with them. Another wonderful trait to the piece is its non-intrusive stance; for a film focused on people dealing with a terminal illness scenes relating to this never feel overwrought or uncomfortably gruesome but Vallee is still able to make you aware of the limited time Rayon, Ron and their friends were left with.

Intelligent, wickedly humorous at times and just damn brilliant Dallas Buyers Club is a stellar example of cinema at its best and most powerful.