Sunday, December 25, 2011

Fincher reimagines aspects of 'Dragon Tattoo'

The posthumous novel by Stieg Larsson has sold over 15 million copies in the U.S. alone and the original Swedish-language film adaptation has already become a cult-favorite. So, how could American director David Fincher bring something new to the widely admired story? Re-imagine it, of course.

From the abstract opening-credit sequence to the cinematography all the way to the most obsessive attention to detail, Fincher retells Dragon Tattoo in his darkly saturated, gritty style.

It's a pretty faithful adaptation, but Fincher is able to re-imagine certain elements, certain story-lines in such a cognitive and innovative way it's never insulting or mockingly.

This version has all the same elements as the Swedish version, but heightened due to a bigger budget. An amazing score by Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor, gorgeous cinematography by Jeff Cronenweth, fast-paced, high adrenaline action and of course, a smart crime-mystery story makes this film just as engrossing as the first.

However, my only critique is perhaps the most important element of the story: the protagonist--Lizbeth Salander.

The story revolves around Lizbeth Salander, a part-time computer hacker and full-time bad-ass, and Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), a journalist, who team up to piece together a decades-old murder-mystery.

In the Swedish version, Noomi Rapace portrayed the bad-ass female heroine with so much attitude and discipline, for loyal fans of the series, it's hard to imagine anyone else could have portrayed Salander better. But for her break-out role, Rooney Mara did an incredibly amazing job as the American lead in this version and might even get her an Oscar nomination; it just wasn't up to par with Rapace's convicting portrayal of this damaged character.

Rapace was able to be tough and sexy at the same time, but never romanticized her role. This is not easy to achieve. I felt Fincher added more humanity to Salander in his version and added almost a childlike vulnerability to the character. There's nothing wrong with that, but compared to the original film, it feels a bit "softened," which is a bit of an understatement if you're aware of the heavy subject matter of the film.

But leave it to Fincher to make up for it; he's known for his sinfully tasteful films, incorporating almost an art-house style to his psychological thrillers, i.e.: Fight Club, Se7en, and Zodiac.  And last year's critically acclaimed The Social Network made him the ideal director to helm this high-speed action film about a computer hacker going through years of data to solve a murder case.

As far as the film strays from the original, at times, Fincher goes above and beyond in re-telling it in his unique way and should nonetheless please fans of the original story. It's a great film to watch for the holidays--just don't take your kids to see it!

Rating: B+

Friday, December 16, 2011

'Hugo' is a dream for cinephiles

From the best-selling book by Brian Selznick, you would expect someone like Chris Columbus, Robert Zemeckis, or even Steven Spielberg to helm this film, based on the popular children's novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret. Instead, you have veteran director Martin Scorcese, known for his more mature credit of work like Goodfellas, Taxi Driver and the film that finally won him an Oscar 2006's The Departed. It sounds like an odd match and it is for the first hour or so, but during the second half it becomes obvious no one could have treated the subject matter of this film with as much care and finesse as Scorcese.

The story revolves around Hugo (Asa Butterfield), an orphan living in a Paris train station, whose job is to wind the clocks. He lives alone, hidden within the walls of the station that is until he meets the sesquipedalist Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz, Kickass) after being caught by the station toy-maker and Isabelle's godfather Georges (Ben Kingsley, Shutter Island) for stealing toy parts. Hugo's father (played by Jude Law) was a clock smith and after his death Hugo went to work for his uncle, managing the station clocks. He took only one object with him--an automaton, a mechanical man, his father was working on, up until his death, but couldn't quite fix. Hugo believes fixing the automaton will send him a message from his father and Isabelle is more than jocund to help, because she claims it is an adventure, like the books she indulges in. But not everybody is so willing to help. The station inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen, Borat) is just waiting to catch Hugo and send him off to an orphanage, where he believes he belongs and Georges holds on to the secret of the automaton, but refuses to divulge anything to the boy who has been stealing from him.

It sounds like a children's tale and it is for the most part, but the foremost question is why Scorcese would want to tackle such a genre this late in his career? The answer is simple. This film is a film maker's dream and for a cinephile like Scorcese it's no wonder he chose such an endeavor. Simply put, it's an ode to the birth of cinema, a well crafted homage to the early, black and white era of silent film and filmmakers. Scorcese recreates, shot for shot, some of the earliest scenes from films by Melies and the Lumiere brothers. He eloquently retells their story with such a creative and innovative twist, the film oozes with his sentimental tribute to such landmark directors. The entire film feels like a personal payment of gratitude to the greats before him.

As a children's film, it doesn't quite work. It's hard to imagine young kids knowing the context of what's happening or what a silent picture is. However, I'm sure the adults taking their kids will both appreciate and respect the level of achievement behind this tale. It's more of a film about film, told through the eyes of a child. Children nonetheless will find this film just as enjoyable. Butterfield gives a very vulnerable and tender performance as the orphan who wants to fix his father's machine. In a head-scratching role, Cohen also gives a rather vulnerable performance, considering his previous films, as the station inspector and produces a few laughs. But the true star of the film are the films themselves. Just like the films of Melies, his purpose was to capture dreams onto film and Scorcese manages to achieve nothing less than that.

In the film, Hugo states, "If you lose your's like you're broken." Scorcese's purpose is clear, to pay a tribute to the films that inspired him when he was a child. And like those films, Hugo should be an inspiration for film lovers of all ages.

Rating: A-

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

New Review Coming Soon

I haven't been posting anything in the last few weeks, because I've been busy with school. That said, this is my last week of finals and next week I'll have my review of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Trilogy, along with the latest version, out next week (it'll be a long one).

The release date, originally November 21, has been changed to November 20.

Click here to watch the latest trailer to Fincher's adaptation.

Also, I'll have the best and worst of 2011 and my Oscar predictions for next year within the coming month or so!

Thank you for stopping by.
Hope you come back.

Love, Cristina.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

All For One and None for All

     In recent interviews, star Milla Jovovich has said this adaptation isn't your parents or grandparents' version of The Three Musketeers. And she's right about that.

     Director and producer Paul W.S. Anderson (Resident Evil films) is not unfamiliar to the action/adventure genre. He knows how to direct sleek and stylish action sequences, but that's not enough. Here, he egregiously fails at telling the story of the musketeers, which is perhaps the most crucial part of the film.

     In this light-hearted version, the three musketeers: Athos (Matthew MacFadyen, Pride and Prejudice) Porthos (Ray Stevenson, Thor) and Aramis (Luke Evans, Immortals) are down-on-their-luck swordsman, just trying to merge themselves back into society. That is until a run-in with the cheeky D'Artagnan (Logan Lerman, Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief) and they discover they still got it in them. They are quickly taken to see the King of France (Freddie Fox) where they are to be reprimanded, under the Cardinal's advisory (played by an underwhelming performance from Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds) for killing his men, but are spared. Soon after, the Queen's diamonds (Juno Temple, The Dark Knight Rises) are stolen and the trio and their young apprentice are asked to recover them from Milady (Jovovich). Orlando Bloom (Lord of the Rings trilogy) and Mads Mikkelsen (Casino Royale) round out this A-list cast playing the Duke of Buckingham and Rochefort, respectively.

     It's quite an amazing group of actors here, you have an Academy Award winner, a Bond villain, an action star, two very talented young actors and Mr. Darcy. It's a director's dream cast, but Anderson fails to use this to his advantage.

     I feel the fault here lies with Anderson, he can give us action, but hasn't learned the meaning of what it means to be an auteur of a film. This is harsh, I know, but I didn't get a sense that he knew he was telling the story of the musketeers, one of the most widely known and respected stories in literature, while watching this film. I give him credit for interpreting it in his own way; I'm sure Dumas never would have imagined his story be adapted into steam punk (Is that a flying ship?) And while I'm being nice, I'll add that Anderson was allowed to shoot in German locations, never allowed to be filmed before and the cinematography (by Glen MacPherson) is quite stunning at times, unfortunately it's not stunning enough to save the film.

     Between the jagged editing and awkwardly juxtaposed scenes, down-right cliche dialogue and overall lack of smooth narration, the film misses on illustrating a clear story. There were many secondary themes Anderson could have touched on and added depth to the story, but stayed away from, like Aramis' silent battle with his faith, Athos and Milady's love/hate relationship, a better background for D'Artagnan, or why Orlando Bloom is such a bad actor? There was just so much that was left to the imagination; the film chose to only scathe the shallow surface and left everything else in the deep.

     There's very little to admire here, but the film had its few moments. This version is a more light-hearted approach to Dumas' story with the occasional laugh here and there. That's thanks to D'Artagnan and Planchet (James Corden). The castles and exteriors were visually pleasing and an amazing array of costumes (by Pierre-Yves Gayraud) added the right look to the film. But as I said, it just wasn't enough to save the film from it's obvious fallacies and I would have to blame that on a lack of clear direction from Anderson and from a lack luster script by Alex Litvak and Andrew Davies.

     This isn't your parents or grandparents' version of the Three Musketeers. And unfortunately, I don't think our generation would want to take ownership of this adaptation either.

Rating: D+

Sunday, October 16, 2011

A Clever Welsh Film about Coming-of-age

      Boy meets a girl, boy falls in love with girl, girl turns out to be more promiscuous than boy would have liked, boy is socially inept and can't deal well with his problems alone--this is the basic concept to most teenage angst stories told nowadays, but what makes Submarine different?

     This quirky drama from Wells seems to cover all the criteria that makes a good coming-of-age film: love, family, loss, heart-ache, witty dialogue, a "Catcher In The Rye" reference, unrealistic, yet amusing situations and of course angst. And truth is, you've probably seen it before, the film channels a little of the aforementioned criteria through other similar films: Igby Goes Down, Thumbsucker, Imaginary Heroes, Lymelife, etc.

     After Robert Redford's 1980 Best Picture film Ordinary People, there's been a slew of films, dealing with similar issues. Usually a troubled or shy teenage boy, falls in love with the wrong type of girl and runs into some very uncomfortable situations he has to deal with. In the past, such films have approached this differently. There's the offbeat/quirky tone, prevalent in Wes Anderson's hilarious Rushmore, also Rocket Science, and Running with Scissors. Then there's the dark/more satirist tones in The Squid and the Whale, Donnie Darko, Afterschool (very dark, indeed), and The United States of Leland. So, what makes Submarine stand out?
     Well, for starters it's from Wells. This might sound funny, but when was the last time you saw a good Welsh movie? You don't care? Alright, fair enough. It's a fairly simple premise then:

     Oliver (played by an incredibly amiable Craig Roberts) fancies Jordana (Yasmin Paige) and is adamant to win her over, but his shy/awkward manner prevents him from approaching her at first. Jordana takes control, as is her personality, and makes the first move. From then on, we see the slow and often funny relationship between the two develop, however, it's not all smooth sailing from then on. Meanwhile, Oliver plays arbitrator in his parents' relationship and tries desperately to keep his family together. What happens in between is a mix of laughter, clever dialogue, touching moments, and a general concern for Oliver.

     Yes, while this film is like other teenage-angst films in many ways, it adequately covers the central message meant to be elicited by all these films and that's a genuine connection and affection for the protagonist. And Oliver is no exception. He's awkward--yes, and does he do things, I wish he wouldn't have?--of course, but he has a kind nature about him and there's no denying a connection here, even when you watch him mess up.

     Richard Ayoade directed and wrote this charming and clever film, based on the book by Joe Dunthorne. Ayoade has no problem communicating this story through funny interior-monologues, seamless back and forth editing and a consistent tone throughout. Ben Stiller executive produced the film, which probably helped it get distribution overseas (and if you look carefully you can see him make a small cameo).

     Overall, Submarine is the kind of tale I never tire of seeing. Its premise is nothing original, but seeing young directors and actors take on this challenge of reinventing such films breathes new life into it. Trying to navigate through the deep and murky waters of adolescence is tough, but Submarine manages to traverse just fine through it.

Rating: B+



Friday, October 14, 2011

Moneyball hits it out of the park

     If you're not a fan of the sport, it's hard to imagine sitting through a two plus hour film about the dynamics and statistics of baseball and actually care about it, but Moneyball manages to do just that and leave you with a new found respect for the game.
     Brad Pitt (Inglourious Basterds) stars as Billy Beane, an ex-Oakland A's player, who got the opportunity of a lifetime when he was drafted, and eventually turned General Manager for the team. Beane is looking to save his team from another season of losses. He wants to re-strategize, get rid of current players and switch them for new ones, but he doesn't quite know the right trajectory to take.

     That's where Peter Brand (Jonah Hill, Superbad) comes in. He's a Yale graduate, with a degree in Economics and a quiet, but powerful appreciation for the sport. It seems unorthodox to hire Peter to pick new players based on mathematics and statistics, but that's exactly what Beane does. He knows he's taking a chance, but in his position he has little to loose.

     It's difficult convincing everyone else at first, when they're used to the accepted practice of hiring players based on hits, pitch speed and how much they're worth, according to the industry. But Beane believes he doesn't need to pay $7 million for a player, based on Brand's calculations, when he can get a good player for a fraction of that. And considering Beane's budget, he doesn't have much of a choice.

     Not everyone is on board with the new tactic, especially not the A's coach Art, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman (Capote).  Beane just wants the coach to give some of the players a chance, but Art is not about to let the GM tell him how to coach a team.

     The film is a constant struggle and battle of wills. You wonder if the team will ever be the dream team Beane wanted to put together, if Brand's math is the right injection needed to give the Oakland team a much needed boost and if you're like me: you'll care at all about a sports film? I can't answer the first two, but it's a clear yes for the latter.

     Directed by Bennett Miller (Capote), the film effortlessly infuses baseball knowledge with a story about overcoming obstacles that is never boring or too pretentious for those who know little about the sport. In fact, you don't even have to have any prior knowledge about the favorite past-time. That's thanks to a clever and smart script (based on the book by Michael Lewis) by Aaron Sorkin (fresh from accepting his Oscar from last year's The Social Network), who not only makes it easy to understand the lingo and what's going on, but makes it fun to watch.

     Pitt is the powerhouse behind the film; his character has a sturdy determination and firm approach to everything he does, but hearing him talk about the romantics of baseball is perhaps the finest point in the film. He says, "It's hard not to be romantic about baseball." It's obviously not just a past-time, it's a lifestyle for both those in the industry and fans of the sport. And for those who've seen it, it's hard not to be romantic about this film.

Rating: A



Friday, October 7, 2011

Don't Mess with Hesher

     Whoever said modesty is the road to salvation, was fortunate enough never to share that road with Hesher.

     How do you describe someone who's rude, crude and above all else dangerous? Well, for starters, he's definitely not someone you'd want looking after your kids, but that's putting it lightly. Let's just say, he wouldn't qualify for Big Brothers Big Sisters of America any day of the week. However, that's exactly who Hesher (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) ends up becoming, a sort-of mentor to the film's protagonist, T.J.

     Struck with grief over the recent death of his mother, T.J. (Devin Brochu) is struggling to learn how to cope with the loss. His widowed father (Rainn Wilson, The Office) can't help him; he can barely take care of himself. And his sweet grandmother (Piper Laurie, Carrie) is too senile to understand the morbidity of the situation. He has no friends and is constantly being harassed at school. He eventually runs into Hesher, who, after much creepy stalking, eventually invites himself as a permanent house-guest with T.J. and his family.

     Soon after, his bad influence on T.J., quickly takes a toll on the rest of the family, as well. He swears profusely, smokes in the house, almost gets T.J. thrown in jail, commits arson on an almost daily basis and did I mention the swearing? Yeah, it's bad, but creative, might I add. "What's green and slimy, and smells like bacon?" Sorry, you're just going to have to figure this one out on your own.

     T.J. is young and confused, he needs some obvious guidance, but is unsure if his new friend/roommate/guy-I-should-have-called-the-cops-on-the-moment-he-stepped-in-my-house will be any help in his silent search for clarity and salvation. And during the film, I found myself asking the same question.

     T.J. is shy, a bit confused and needs direction. He wants to stand up for himself and learn to talk to the pretty cashier (Natalie Portman, Black Swan) at the local grocery store--that is if Hesher won't get in the way. Hesher's abrasive approach, mixed with his often malicious words of wisdom (and trust me, it's hard to watch sometimes) makes him a very dangerous influence. However, you begin to wonder if his approach isn't exactly what T.J. might need. It's a constant struggle throughout the film seeing which character will break first, but I promise you it's one worth watching.

     Hesher marks the directorial debut for Spencer Susser, who also wrote the script, along with David Michod, based on Brian Charles Frank's story. The tone of the film is dark and often depressing, but Susser and Michod's script adds some lively and creative dialogue through Hesher's character, which actually turns out to be some of the highlights of the film: wondering what he'll say next.

     At times, you wonder if you can take the film seriously with all of the snarky and obscene remarks, but then remember you're watching Gordon-Levitt playing this character and are well assured he can pull this off. And he does. And after his performance in Mysterious Skin, there should be no doubt you're in good hands when watching one of his films. Also, worth mentioning is Wilson's sensitive, yet solid performance, which is a big departure from his t.v. character (no mustard-yellow shirts were worn during this movie).

     Whether you love Hesher or hate him (and you'd have plenty of reasons to) you can't help but want everything to turn out okay. You start to see that underneath all the layers there's a real person in there and hope he ends up saving himself, while "helping" T.J. and his family.

Rating: B+

Sunday, October 2, 2011

50/50 makes cancer a laughing matter

     This cancer-comedy beats the odds and effortlessly intertwines the morbid aspects of being diagnosed with cancer all while poking fun at it at the same time.

     Inspired by a true story, 50/50 tells the story of a young twenty-something discovering he has cancer. Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Inception) is Adam, a radio journalist, who recycles, doesn't smoke and doesn't drive because automobile accidents are the fifth leading cause of death (ironically, cancer is the second). After discovering, he has a rare form of spine cancer with only a 50 percent chance of survival rate, Adam continues trying to lead a normal life as best he can. His girlfriend Rachael, played by the stunning Bryce Dallas Howard (Eclipse) agrees to stay in the relationship and take care of him. His best-friend Kyle, Seth Rogen (Knocked Up), is shocked, but eases the tension by being the foul-mouth, comic-relief of the film. And after telling his mother, the oh-so talented Anjelica Huston, of his newly discovered tumor, ignores her calls and attempts to form a close relationship, urging her he is going to be okay.

     However, Adam soon discovers the grim realities of living with cancer, when he begins his chemotherapy sessions. The pain is intolerable, his nights are restless and it's hard to focus on anything, however he continues denying his situation is not anything other than fine. It's clear he's in denial, but his attitude towards his disease is soon challenged when he goes to see a therapist, played by the quirky, yet adorable Anna Kendrick (Up In The Air). The fact that his therapist is younger than him and not even out of school yet, does not help her case towards trying to help Adam accept the graveness of his illness (but boy, does she try). It's awkward at first, but seeing Adam open up to her and us seeing how smitten Kendrick is that she is helping him get there shows how well the two actors play off each other, but also makes it hard to watch when Adam refuses to open up too much. It's not hard to predict a break-down is well on its way.

     The film evenly balances the heavy issues associated with a possible terminal illness with the lighter side. In what is perhaps one of film's most memorable scenes, Adam--after much urging--takes a macaroon laced with marijuana from one of his chemo-buddies and walks out the hospital, while having a few laughs at what most would not consider amusing things to laugh at. Seth Rogen's character is the Yang to Adam's Yin and both actors balance each other very well. Kyle's witty and profane banter never ceases when he's on screen and adds much needed humor. Despite Kyle's remarks (and they are pretty funny), the film is constantly reminding us of Adam's impending fate throughout the film. As funny as his situation can be, when the situation gets dark there is little to find amusing.

     Director Jonathan Levine (The Wackness) marks only his third film with a pleasant atmosphere. He is able to tell the story of a cancer-patient without it being too somber that it overwhelms you with grief. He keeps it evenly paced and light-hearted, but never lets us forget the seriousness of what is going on. Will Reiser contributed (in more ways than one) by writing and producing the film. His humorous script is never dull and paces itself quite well. As crazy as the situations Adam finds himself can get, the film also has a genuine realism to it that I found more pronounced in the therapy sessions with Kendrick.

     Without giving too much away, the film is a clever balance of non-stop laughs intertwined with truly heartbreaking scenes. The shining moments in the film rest entirely on this amazing group of actors and seeing each one of them deal with Adam's cancer and how it affects them individually, as well. Gordon-Levitt excels in this role, as he does all his others, and makes us sympathetic towards his character's illness and well-being from the beginning and even well after the film has ended.

Rating: A-


Saturday, September 24, 2011

Cooper has no Limitations

      Bradley Cooper takes a bunch of narcotics and does some crazy things in this 2011 film. No, I'm not talking about his reprising role in the latest Hangover sequel. This performance is actually worth watching.
     Cooper stars in Limitless as Eddie Morra, a down-on-his-luck author with some serious writer's block, hoping to write the novel that will catch him his big break. Eddie looks tired, jaded, even homeless--at one point he points out how only people with a drug or alcohol problem look like him. Eddie's girlfriend Lindy, played by Abbie Cornish (Bright Star) takes notice and breaks up with him in a diner. But Eddie's destined trajectory soon changes, when he runs into his ex-brother-in-law Vernon (Johnny Whitworth) on the street and a couple of mid-afternoon drinks later, Eddie walks home with a small, clear pill in his pocket.
     He knows it's probably not a good idea, but what the hell, he has nothing to loose anymore. Thirty seconds is all he needs for it to kick in and the affects are eminent once they do. Everything starts to look bright, clear and focused. Even Eddie's demeanor changes, he no longer wears a facade of pretending to be something he's not, he owns his new-found confidence and wears it well.
     The pill, according to Vernon, allows the person who takes it to access receptors in the brain and use it to it's full potential. And this is evident from Eddie's experience. He teaches himself to play piano in three days, learns to speak fluent languages by listening to tape-recordings, makes some pocket-money by investing in stocks, wins back Lindy, even finishes that book in a few days.
     But not everything looks bright for Eddie's future. When Vernon is murdered in his apartment, Eddie makes off with his stash of pills (the effects only last for a day), which sustains him for most of the movie. I say most, because he eventually runs out. But that's the entertaining aspect of the film, seeing how Cooper's character will outsmart his way out of every situation. Add a few taxi-chases, angry drug-dealers, and one power-hungry boss (Robert DeNiro) and you have a cocktail that's sure to be a good time.
     Neil Burger (The Illusionist) directs this action-packed, adrenaline-rush of a movie with full force on the pedal and a clear direction of where he wanted to go. And it goes pretty far, pretty fast. Burger teamed up with Leslie Dixon, who wrote the screenplay, based on Alan Glynn's novel "The Dark Fields." Dixon's screenplay is smart, considering it's genre and adds a bit of an edge with some witty dialogue towards the end. Jo Willems creates visual pleasure with his cinematography throughout the film. The dark hues and unsaturated visual style in the film is punctuated by incandescent colors when Eddie takes the pill, symbolizing his clear and bright mind. Willems draws attention to every detail, every tone, every color, every pigment of blue in Cooper's baby blues (*cough, cough* I'm just saying).
     It's not the greatest action movie you've ever seen, but it's also not your average action movie you see nowadays. It's smart, a bit stylish and fun to watch. And honestly, what more can you ask? Cooper maneuvers well in this fast-paced, action-thriller and manages playing both the average-Joe and business-man with too much bravado quite well. It's never pretentious or exhaustive to watch. In fact it's almost charming and you see glimpses of Cooper's true leading man quality come out in every scene. This is one action-movie that had everything planned out well.

Rating: B+

Monday, September 19, 2011

Psycho is a mess of a slasher

     He's rich, sophisticated, has an ivy-league education, exquisite taste in music and occasionally will blow off steam by committing voluntary manslaughter, all before his 6:30 dinner reservations, of course. That's the joke behind American Psycho: murderers lurk all around us, sometimes concealed in an upper-class, yuppie guise.

     The film is based on the Bret Easton Ellis novel of the same name and is set in the 1980s. Our protagonist here is Patrick Bateman (the name even sounds vanilla), played by Christian Bale (Batman movies). Patrick wakes up every morning, showers, and proceeds with his rigorous routine of moisturizing and man-pampering his chiseled, smooth face. He walks out of his pricey New York apartment, fresh-faced, clean cut and you might even say dressed to kill. On the outside he's a composed banking executive with a hot girlfriend (Reese Witherspoon); he's surrounded by shallow friends, who share his interest in the tangible and temporal; and enjoys listening to Phil Collins with a glass of wine. Some might say he has it together, but we all know that's his sly plan. Who would suspect a N.Y. businessman, obsessed with perfecting the font on his business card, of murder in the third degree?

     The film, directed by Mary Harron, starts off with potential. We're introduced to Bateman's character and how his life is structured around his routines, encounters with co-workers, his job and you quickly see how his shallow and repetitive life-style can invoke an alter-ego. But the process in which this two-dimensional character switches from normal New Yorker walking the streets during the day to malicious assassin during the night is just that: night and day.

      His first victim in the film is a homeless man on the street. Why was he the target? He was just there, apparently. We're given no background on Bateman, no formal motive, no clue as to why he commits these acts, we're just left to assume he was probably a disturbed youth who started out killing puppies and eventually switched to people. Not to mention, he's messy. You would think someone as orderly as Bateman would consider the mess he's about to spill on his expensive furniture, before he slaughters his victims on his couch. (Maybe Dexter can give him a lesson in murder 101?) At one point, he tries taking his bloody sheets to the cleaners and wonders why the stain won't come out.

      Bateman balances his two lives pretty well, until an investigator (Willem Dafoe) shows up in his office one day, asking where his friend Paul (Jared Letto) is. Paul came over to Bateman's apartment one evening and asked too many questions about his girlfriend and well, I'm sure you can figure out the rest. This is one of the few times his lethal actions are ever validated. The film is a mix of gory and disturbing slayings, intertwined with Bateman's equally disturbing sexcapades, one of which involves a three-some, a camera and reconstructive-surgery.

     As much as Bale is clearly committed to the role (and he certainly seems crazy), Psycho fails to connect the two worlds the film illustrates together and ultimately is more of a comedy than a drama. Right before he murders one of his victims, he seduces them, with spiked wine and shares his knowledge of Whitney Houston's greatest work. There's just nothing serious to take out of this adaptation and probably would have fared better if Harron had a clearer image. You're best off, reading the book.

Rating: D

Friday, September 16, 2011

You won't want this Drive to end

     This is my first attempt at a review, so here goes: I went to the first showing of Drive earlier today after weeks of hearing nothing but positive adoration from sites like IndieWire, Deadline, THR and countless others and am delighted to say this indie-standout is not a let-down. From the first car chase that opens the film, we are left with a feeling of pure adrenaline that entices us and sustains us throughout its entirety.
     Ryan Gosling (Stupid, Crazy, Love), only known as the Driver, leads a double life, working as a stuntman for the movies during the day and moon-lighting as a getaway driver for criminals during the night. The stoic, yet shy Gosling eventually befriends his neighbor Irene, played by Carey Mulligan (An Education) and son Benicio and a quiet romance soon develops between the two. Things quickly get complicated when Irene's husband is released from prison and returns home to make amends for the sins of his past. The plot further thickens when Irene's husband Standard (Oscar Isaac) is unable to pay back money he owed from prison and finds himself unable to find a solution when his family is threatened. That's where our Driver comes in; he agrees to be the getaway driver for Standard in a pawn-shop robbery that goes horribly and gruesomely wrong. From that dark turning point, Gosling's character tries desperately to make things right, get himself out of the situation and make sure Irene and Benicio are safe, all while driving like a bad-ass the entire time.
     Director Nicolas Winding Refn (Valhalla Rising) directs with impressionable style. The car chases are action-packed, yet stylish and edited with an organized precision that won't give you a headache (perhaps Michael Bay would like to take note on this). Different camera angles of the chases, juxtaposed with a camera view behind the wheel leaves one with the floaty feeling of actually being in the Driver's seat. The film is full of these action-on-steroid sequences, but have no doubt it's a well-paced drama with a surreal style, not far from reminiscent of an 80's vibe. And I"m not talking about Miami Vice 80's; Winding Refn's film is definitely an art-house picture with a style of its own. Stunning cinematography and a dreamlike soundtrack add to this style.
     Gosling, however, leads this power-house of a film with a poignant performance, acting with silent emotion (he has few lines in the film) and pulls his own weight against solid performances from an incredible supporting cast, which include: Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad), Albert Brooks (Defending Your Life--I see an oscar nomination in the coming months), Ron Perlman (Sons of Anarchy) and Christina Hendricks (Mad Men).
     It's visually a beautiful and stunningly crafted film with memorable characters, lines and even clothing (I expect outlets to start selling the Driver's trademark scorpion jacket soon) that will not disappoint.  Ultimately, Drive is like....well, just that-- an adrenaline-filled drive you never want to end and will want to hop back in the seat as soon as it's over for the second ride.
Rating: A