Thursday, December 30, 2010

Review: The Fighter (2010)

Director David O. Russell (Three Kings, I Heart Huckabees) does an admirable job telling the true story of former welterweight champion Micky Ward (portrayed by Mark Wahlberg). Ward is known especially for his famous trilogy of title fights with the late Arturo Gatti. The Fighter takes place years before these fights, as Micky is desperately trying to make a name for himself. Torn between depending on his family-that has a tendency to fall short- or training with professionals that will ensure his spot on HBO, Micky continues to exert himself. His brother Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale)- former professional boxer known for bringing Sugar Ray Leonard to the mat- persists to miss training sessions and events for Micky as he spirals deeper into his crack addiction. The Fighter is a magnificent display of a man with a dream, rising from the streets to fame. David O. Russell and Wahlberg continue to prove themselves a great cinematic duo. Wahlberg, showing both emotional and physical determination as he trained with the real Micky Ward and brother Dicky for the film, displays a great depiction of the great fighting Irishman. Additionally, Bale, famous for his astonishing physical dedication to roles (losing 63 pounds for his role in The Machinist, and reaching peak physical status for such films as American Psycho and Nolan's Batman Begins), continues to shock audiences with not only his drastic change of appearance for the role of Dicky, but for his oscar-worthy performance and portrayal of addiction. The setting and time period are precise, from the streets of Boston to the horrific moosed hairdos of the Ward sisters, placing the viewer's seat directly in the atmosphere of Lowell, Boston. The astoundingly talented Amy Adams only adds to the authenticity as Micky's autonomous Boston broud love interest. Much like Rocky, the final fifteen minutes of the film will leave its audience's nerves much like the antagonist's after a long drag of crack. Inspirational, compelling, and at times tragic, The Fighter hits on many levels- scoring it 31/2 stars.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Review: True Grit (2010)

The Coen Brothers' adaptation of Charles Portis' 1968 novel-True Grit- stars Jeff Bridges as the infamous U.S. Marshall Rooster Cogburn. Known for his recklessness, yet also for his grit and consistent persistence, Cogburn seems a worthy candidate to help the young, autonomous Mattie Ross (the new and encouraging Hailee Steinfeld) find and kill her father's murderer, Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin). Chaney, being a wanted man by more than simply the daughter of his most recent victim, attracts a Texas Ranger named LaBoeuf (Matt Damon) to his trail of hunters. Determined to not only pay the man who will avenge her father's death, but ride with him on this dangerous path to redemption, there is no shaking Mattie off the path. Will the heroic drunk and ranger have the guts and grit to eliminate Chaney and protect Ross? True Grit is a fine example of the Coen brothers ability to tell a compelling story. Having a passion for the west, Joel and Ethan had no trouble creating an atmosphere that engulfs it's audience in the 1860's. Reacquainting themselves with Bridges of The Big Labowski and Brolin of No Country for Old Men, and introducing their first collaboration with Damon- the brothers could not have crafted a better, more inspiring cast. It is hard to understand any issue with the film, other than The Dude vs. The Duke. Sure, Jeff Bridges "is no Duke", because the Duke has been gone for years. In comparison, Heath Ledger was no Jack Nicholson in the role of The Joker-- he was better. Additionally, fans of Fargo, Raising Arizona, The Big Labowski, etc. may notice a loss of overall absurdity in the brothers' translation of True Grit. This stronger sense of normalcy can only be described by the fact that they are displaying someone else's story and surely did not want to distort it too severely. Containing all of the original characters and personalities, a few precise horseback duels from the original, and the same plot, climax, and dramatic question- Grit still certainly maintains a Coen Signature. The dark humor is gut busting, and the few scenes of tension are enough to make any audience grind their teeth. It is hard to find a solid child actor, but the new aspiring Hailee Steinfeld proves that diamonds do exist in the rough. A fine display of leading and secondary performances, and film making at its finest, True Grit earns 31/2 stars.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Review: Black Swan (2010)

Director Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan is strongly based on the four act classical ballet: Swan Lake. Swan Lake tells the tale of a princess who has been cursed to appear as a swan, and will remain this way unless a prince confesses his love for her. Upon falling in love, the prince is deceived by an evil sorcerer, and proposes to the wrong lady. Devastated and heart-broken, the "Swan Queen" throws herself into the lake- taking her own life. The Prince witnesses this and cannot bare the despair- leading him to the same fate. Aronofsky is known for his ability to flourishingly depict a variety of downward spirals (i.e. the heroine addiction of Requiem for a Dream, the obsession of a washed up professional wrestler portrayed by Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler). Aronofsky continues this trend in Black Swan, as he introduces his audience to Nina (Natalie Portman)- a ballerina desperately consumed by the role of her lifetime, to the extent that her fate is beginning to match that of the very character she is set to master on stage- the Swan Queen. Challenged by her competition (the other desperate ballerinas), obliged by her mother to give it everything she has, drugged by her most prevalent rival (Mila Kunis), and hounded and seduced by her fierce ballet instructor (the always astonishing Vincent Cassel), Nina is quickly loosing her grasp on reality. She is becoming obsessed with perfection, and until she realizes that she is the largest obstacle in her way (perhaps quite literally), perfection will not be achieved. Will she make it to the show of her life before her hungry alternate dancer? Does she have the dedication it takes-and for that matter-is it worth it? Wow! Black Swan is everything a thriller should be. It's original, tense, charismatic, psychological; it's art. The symbolism achieved in this film between fairy tale and reality is truly hair-raising. As if the screenplay and Aronofsky's clear understanding of it wasn't enough, Natalie Portman shows us all that she was born for this role- which ironically is of a girl who was born for her role (I'm pretty sure we have just been incepted). Not only were her emotions absolute, but her physical abilities and appearance matched that of a professional ballet dancer. The levels that Black Swan clicks on are endless. The correlation between the characters of Swan Lake and the people in her life is something that could only have been captured in this way by Aronofsky and perhaps Kubrick. Much like the music within the ballet, this film is a never ending crescendo that contains a finale worthy of applause. The film achieves what its leading lady seeks the most- perfection. For ranking as the best film viewed all year and containing the best performance by a single actor, Black Swan earns 4 stars for this audience member.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Review: Buried (2010)

Director Rodrigo Cortes' Buried stars Ryan Reynolds as Paul Conroy- a U.S. Contractor who delivers supplies by truck to Iraq. For Paul, this day bears no resemblance to other days on the job. Conroy has awakened to darkness, feet below the surface of an unknown location in Iraq, after he and his crew were attached: killing his fellow truck drivers and leaving him alone in a coffin. Though exasperated, Conroy is filled with a sense of ambition as he discovers that his kidnappers have left him a cell phone, a knife, a Zippo lighter, a glow stick, and a flashlight. As an average joe, Paul desires nothing more than returning home to his family. Unfortunately for Paul, he lacks the position of royalty, therefore struggling to find answers or anyone that feels as desirous about his escape as he does. Will Paul reach his wife and son? Will this day end with vengeance over his Iraqi kidnappers?Will his battery die-or more pressingly- will he? Much similar to Neil Marshall's The Descent, by the end of this film the viewer and the protagonist will be gasping for the same breath of air. Whether or not they both receive I will reserve for the film to portray. From the beginning of Buried, the audience is plunged to the edge of their seat: much like classic Hitchcock. For a movie involving a single six by four foot set, there is enough struggle, action, and stimulation to keep an audience member counting down to closing time. Sure, Buried is at times so heavily claustrophobic, secluded, and uncomfortable that even the viewer feels the need to amplify- but what else should one expect from such a title? The one-man-show performance delivered by Reynolds deters fans of the actor from the belief that films such as The Proposal define his career. Reynolds performs an exceptional work of art in Buried. Such a role has the potential to make or break a film judging by the actor carrying the load- and Reynolds conveys Buried its full length. Never has a dying battery of a cell phone had such an intense effect on me. By the end of this film, you will have formed a liking for its protagonist, a passion for their survival, and a sense of unpredictability of their fate. Buried brings suspenseful film making back to its roots, earning it a strong 3 stars.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Review: Monsters (2010)

Written and Directed by Gareth Edwards, Monsters tells the tale of Andrew Kaulder (Scott McNairy), a struggling photographer and journalist who is having a hard time making a living in an earth that is dealing with alien inhabitants that landed six years ago. These Monsters have implanted fear in the minds of humans- not only making everyday situations much more complicated- but making dangerous journeys significantly more hazardous, for example, crossing the border of Mexico and the United States. In a world that a photo-journalist can only benefit from horrific, appalling photographs and stories, Andrew is open to high paying projects. Conveniently for Andrew and for a fair price, Samantha Wynden (Whitney Able)-daughter of an important American figure- needs guidance and transportation across the Mexican border. Inconveniently enough, the ferry (the safest way to travel in these formidable times) has become unavailable to the duo, forcing them to cross the border on foot with a team of protective authorities. Though Andrew is a bit of a playboy and Samantha is engaged, sharing the same journey and fear of these "creatures" that lurk our land forces Andrew and Samantha to not only become familiar, but perhaps fond of each other as well. Not only will this film please monster film fans or those devoted to science fiction, but a large array of viewers of all tastes due to its appeal to human emotion. For a film who's title and centerpiece is Monsters, this picture has everything to do with human relationships and the magnetic forces of love and fate. Much like early George A. Romero films such as Night of the Living Dead, the beasts are candidly bait to bring the film's characters together- and when this happens in Monsters, the chemistry is coercing. The film has a perfect enough blend of magic realism, drama, action, humor, and tension to earn its spot on the top of this year's independent film list and 3 1/2 stars in my book.