Eastwood plays William Munny, a man â€œcured of his wickednessâ€ from his days a drunken outlaw and gun-for-hire. Sobriety came ten years ago, only after his late wife and mother to his two children forced him into an honest life. But honesty hasnâ€™t come easily to Munny; every dayâ€™s pig-farming, especially with aching, alcoholic joints like his, takes its toll. Continue reading “Weekend Film Recommendation: Unforgiven”
On a good day, it takes a little over two hours to drive the M40 from Birmingham all the way to London. If youâ€™re speeding to meet an emergency, you can make it in just over an hour and half. This weekendâ€™s film recommendation, Steven Knightâ€™s Locke, unfolds in real-time, as the eponymous main character Ivan Locke completesÂ the journey along the M40 before the credits roll by the 85th minute.
Tom Hardy plays Ivan Locke, who steps from the construction site where he works into his BMW in the late evening as the film begins. This is the only time we will see Locke outside of his car for the duration of the film, and it is the only time we will see him in the same frame as another human face. Locke is one of those films that wrings a literary conceit as dry as it will allow: It doesnâ€™t take long before the audience cottons on to the fact that this film will end before Locke reaches London, and there will be no reprieve from the eight or so different angles from which weâ€™ll view his face behind the steering wheel. The only other voices we hear are disembodied, played through the speaker of his car’s Bluetooth. Locke is alone. Continue reading “Weekend Film Recommendation: Locke”
Preparing for this semester’s batch of final exams means that I will not be making a new film recommendation this week. Instead, I’m going toÂ flag up my review from some years ago of Alan Bennett’s collaboration with Nicholas Hytner inÂ The History Boys, which is about what happens when a few Yorkshire lads go stir-crazy prepping for exams of their own. (I thought re-posting my review ofÂ The Paper Chase might, despite also being somewhat apposite, mistakenly suggestÂ that my preparations are progressing less swimminglyÂ than would be conveyed by re-postingÂ History Boys!)
Adapting a stage script for the screen is not straightforward. For one thing, learning how to navigate the differences in pace between a live theatre performance and the screen screen requires tremendous skill. Every once in a while, however, a stage script is strong enough that it can be lifted almost verbatim and will still work as a splendid film. This weekâ€™s movie recommendation, Nicholas Hytnerâ€™s adaptation of Alan Bennettâ€™s The History Boys (2006), is one such film.
The film is set in 1980s Yorkshire, in a small town outside of Bradford. Eight high school-age boys have done exceedingly well on their final examinations, and show some promise for university spots at Oxbridge. They are impossibly erudite, and uncontrollably hormonal. Thanks to their charming but unconventional teacher Hector (played by Richard Griffiths) they can recite the poetry of Hardy as fluently as they can procure the services of a French prostitute. While their minds are brilliant, they are also puerile. What they lack, according to the officious schoolmaster, is panache. In order to compete with the aristos against whom theyâ€™ll be pitted in the dreaded Oxbridge interviews, they must learn to rein in their bawdy schoolboy attitude. The schoolmaster therefore hires a temporary history teacher, Irwin (played by Stephen Campbell Moore), to whip the boys into shape.
The rest of the film deals with the boysâ€™ (and teachersâ€™) struggles with their friendships, their beliefs, and their sexualities. Those challenges play out in the context of two fundamentally different approaches to schooling: on one hand, the instrumentally-minded Irwin is focused on the â€˜gameâ€™ of getting the boys accepted to Oxbridge; Hector, on the other hand, cares little for the boysâ€™ destinations, and urges them to focus instead on the journey of learning.
Those familiar with Hytnerâ€™s earlier adaptations of stage scripts will notice a common theme: like his versions of Millerâ€™s The Crucible (1996), and another Bennett play,The Madness of King George (1994), this isnâ€™t a film one watches for the use of camera, lighting, or soundtrack. Sometimes one even gets the sense that the talented acting is being used merely as a vehicle to maximise the wit of the script. Nonetheless, sterling performances shine through on all counts. Iâ€™ll highlight Richard Griffiths in particular, only because Hytner successfully brings out in his portrayal of Hector that same quality that you notice in Nigel Hawthorneâ€™s King George â€“ despite all his flaws, he is instantaneously and unavoidably likeable.
The film never succeeded quite as well as the stage version. But, given that the play was one of the most well-received stage productions in the last 50 years, that isnâ€™t saying all that much.
AccordingÂ to lawyers, thereâ€™s one film that consistently ranks among the top law-themed films of all time. Itâ€™s not hard to see why, when you have a rare narrative that portrays the lawyer as himself being the embattled underdog, who manages toÂ overcome adversity and become theÂ noble problem-solver and advocate for justice he was (maybe, on a good day) destined to be.Â This weekendâ€™s movie recommendation is My Cousin Vinny.
Bill Gambini and Stan Rothenstein are two New York kids taking a road trip through Alabama before they begin classes at college. When their car is pulled over, they fear the worst: they believe theyâ€™re about to be hauled back to the precinct for the careless error of having unintentionally stolen a can of tuna from the local gas station. They know that justice in Alabama takes a different tenor than what theyâ€™re familiar with, so they brace themselves for trouble when their fears are realized.
But things start going really pear-shaped when they learn that theyâ€™re being booked for murder one instead of petty larceny. Just moments after pulling out of the gas station, Bill and Stan protest, others driving a similar car must have approached and committed the crime for which our tender protagonists stand accused.
This week’s movie recommendation doesn’t neatlyÂ qualify as a documentary — butÂ then again, I struggle to call it anything else.Â Cutie and the Boxer, directed by Zachary Heinzerling, tells the story of the wedded Japanese avant-garde artists Ushio and Noriko Shinohara. The film intermittently departs from the traditional documentary format and veers toward something that more closely resembles a storyboard narrative that drawsÂ on the aesthetic found in the artistsâ€™ works. The final product moves seamlesslyÂ between biographical exposition and artistic exhibition.
For those in the knowâ€”no, I confess Iâ€™m certainly notâ€”Ushio Shinohara rose to prominence in the late â€˜60s as one of the leading figures at the vanguard of â€œjunk art.â€ By applying bright, garish colors to found objects like cardboard and plastic bottles and discarded engine parts, Ushio (nicknamed â€œGyu-Shanâ€) created enormous, colorful, and vibrant sculptures and paintings that offered commentary on traditional tropes of American beauty.
After commercial success with Memento in 2000, Christopher Nolan moved on to remake a Norwegian film that would cement his place as one of the great high-concept thriller directors in showbiz. In 2002, he released this weekendâ€™s movie recommendation: Insomnia. Continue reading “Weekend Film Recommendation: Insomnia”
With the exception of a few choice gems, itâ€™s commonplace that sequels donâ€™t â€˜live upâ€™ to the legacy they inherit from the earlier film. In this weekendâ€™s movie recommendation, Iâ€™d like to submit that Scorseseâ€™s sequel to Robert Rossenâ€™s The Hustler (reviewed here), in which Paul Newman reprises the role of â€˜Fastâ€™ Eddie Felson to train up the young hotshot Vincent Lauria in The Color of Money, deserves to be placed among the great sequels. Continue reading “Weekend Film Recommendation: The Color of Money”
The director of this weekâ€™s movie recommendation, Nicolas Winding Refn, once conceded to a nonplussed audience at Cannes that this was the kind of film people would either love or virulently detestâ€”but like the film or not, itâ€™s indelibly memorable. Itâ€™s his 2013 thriller set in Bangkok, Only God Forgives.
Ryan Gosling plays Julian, the drug-running heir apparent to a Muay Thai boxing club that operates as a front for the familyâ€™s narcotics business. His older brother Billy is a violent pervert who, at the end of one of his depraved excursions, is caught by the police red-handed next to the corpse of a young prostitute he has brutally beaten.
Enter a mysterious police officer named Lt. Chang, played by Vithaya Pansringarm. Chang is an emotionless arbiter of a strangeâ€”and decidedlyÂ not legalâ€”justice. He offers the victimâ€™s father the opportunity to exact merciless retribution upon Billyâ€™s body of the very kind that Billy visited on the daughter. But Chang charges the fee of severing the fatherâ€™s arm in return.
Now that Julian succeedsÂ to become second-in-line to the illegal empire owned by his mother Crystal (played by Kristin Scott Thomas), she demands that he prove himself to her by exacting revenge on all those associated with Billyâ€™s death. Thus continues a long sequence of revenges and duels that punctuate the film: in exchange for taking the prostituteâ€™s life, Billy must die; in exchange for taking Billyâ€™s life, the father must die; in exchange for taking the fatherâ€™s life, Julianâ€¦
Weighing all these lives in the balance, deliberating on whom to bestow mercy, is Chang. Dispelling any ambiguity about the filmâ€™s title, Winding Refn reputedly whispered in Pansringarmâ€™s ear before each shoot â€œYou are God.â€ Chang is mesmerizing as villain-cum-deus ex machina. He is not scrawny, certainly, but he is slight. He is unflinchingly blank, even when torturing witnesses for information. He requires neither sleep nor food, despite spending all day perfecting his swordcraft and all night scraping the dregs of society off his boot. And, although he may not appear as such, he can swiftly dispatch even the most trained pugilist with expert skill. Heâ€™s petrifying.
The real triumph of Only God Forgives is Kristin Scott Thomasâ€™ performance as Julianâ€™s mother Crystal. If one of the Real Housewives of Somewhere and Such had earned an advanced degree in sadism, sheâ€™d look and act like Crystal: her meretricious fashion sense is as startling as her language, which she uses to dismantle or manipulate all around her. Itâ€™s Crystalâ€™s world, folks, and we should just consider ourselves lucky to be living in it.
Which is why Julian dares not even question when Crystal demands he kill those responsible for his brotherâ€™s death. With only 17 lines of dialogue, Julianâ€™s character is relatively hard to make out, but itâ€™s apparent that he isnâ€™t a feckless man; rather, his motherâ€™s hold on him is one of such total and complete manipulation that he acquiesces to even her most emasculating and sadistic displays. Those familiar with Drive (2011), the previous collaboration between Winding Refn and Gosling, will be used to the lingering shots of Goslingâ€™s beautiful, is-he-about-to-cry facial expression in the immediate moments before a viscerally violent outburst. All of this makes Julianâ€™s character rather difficult to place.
Which means that between Pansringarmâ€™s inscrutable moral code, Crystalâ€™s fiery and wanton scheming, and Julianâ€™s oddÂ quietude, Only God Forgives is certainlyÂ not a strong character-driven film. It also is painfully slow at points, even for a movie as short as this (running at only 89 minutes). It is, however, an exciting experience. The frankly amazing use of color, superb soundtrack, and slick production values make for the same kind of sensational combination that made Manhunter (reviewed here) so electrifyingly engaging, and it’s a theatricality that I’ve praised in one of Winding Refn’s earlier works, Bronson. Like that film, Only God Forgives showcases a director trying something new on for style, and while it doesnâ€™t always work, youâ€™re glad they tried.
In the eight years since Richard Reid’s failure, the Underwear Bomber learnedÂ no more than to move the explosives from his feet to his groin. I still remember the fun comics had withÂ the sheer incompetence of the plot. Thereâ€™s always been an odd suspicion about just how skilled at their craft terrorists need to be to get the job done, and that suspicion forms the very heart of this weekendâ€™s movie recommendation. In Chris Morrisâ€™ black comedy Four Lions, the picture is clear: terrorists these days must not have a brain cell between them. Continue reading “Weekend Film Recommendation: Four Lions”
If you have to wait for further instructions, you might as well wait somewhere enjoyable. Bruges will do.
Hitmen Ken and Ray just finished a job in London, and their boss Harry has told them to hide out in BelgiumÂ until he sends further word. The snag, however, is that although Ken (played by Brendan Gleeson) is perfectly happy to soak up the sights in this beautifully preserved medieval town, Ray (played by Colin Farrell) canâ€™t stand it. At all. This weekâ€™s movie recommendation is about their troubled stay In Bruges.