Tag Archives: drama

Edge of Darkness (2010)


Starring: Mel Gibson, Ray Winstone, Danny Huston
Director: Martin Campbell
Screenwriter: William Monahan, Andrew Bovell
Rated: R for strong bloody violence and language.

Remaking his own 6 episode BBC mini-series, director Martin Campbell attempts his reboot skills, this time not for a fictional character, as was the case with James Bond (twice even, in 1995 with Goldeneye and 2006 with Casino Royale), but rather one made of flesh and blood, Mel Gibson. “Edge of Darkness” is an attempt at a comeback for the 80’s violent conspiracy/revenge/Mel flicks. And it sort of works that way too.

Thomas Craven (Mel Gibson) is a Boston homicide detective. When his daughter is killed right in front of him, he begins an investigation which leads him into the murky corporate underworld, complete with nefarious government cover-ups, silenced witnesses and henchmen driving around in black SUVs. His daughter was working for Northmoor, a company she discovered was secretely manufacturing nuclear weapons. Now, it’s up to Mel to avenge his daughter, plow through the bad guys and bring down Northmoor executive Jack Bennet (Danny Huston). What a great set-up for a trailer. You can even imagine that deep trailer voice announcing all this stuff.

The most important thing to keep in mind when deciding to watch this movie, is the fact that it’s throwback to the 80s conspiracy thrillers. It doesn’t always make sense, and the fact that a 6 episode plot was condensed to a two hour movie leaves a lot of the story feel rushed. While the mini-series was supposed to be a dark mistery with a slow pace, this one is supposed to be just as dark, but more action oriented, and tailored to Mel Gibson’s brand of intense performance. Indeed, Mel is back into his “Lethal Weapon” game, chewing scenery whenever he can, but, as you can imagine, in a way more appropriate for his age. I was afraid they would have him do James Bond stunts, but, thank God, there’s none of that.

Besides Mel, there’s another interesting character, Jedburgh (Ray Winstone), who describes himself as “the man who stops you from connecting A to B”. His job was to take out Craven before he would become a nuisance for the government, but something about Craven intrigues him. They share a couple of lengthy conversations, and in a separate scene, we find out Jedburgh is terminally ill. All these will lead to a puzzling final scene I will not spoil. His motivations are a mistery, much like the character himself. There’s a certain depth to him that doesn’t feel fully developed. Just, intriguing.

The whole film is full of little contradictions. It has a deliberately slow pace, that ends up conflicting with the condensed and rushed plot. It throws in shocking, unexpected scenes of graphic violence that fit the revenge plot, but remain nothing more than shock tactics in an otherwise tame movie. It shows us the promise of a psychological thriller, but by the end it’s nothing more than a shoot’em up. Everything shifts and turns. The only constant and dependable things are Mel Gibson’s overacting and Danny Huston’s weasely villain. It’s the kind of movie that can be enjoyed especially if you aknowledge and accept these facts and savour them for what they are. If this is your kind of fare, then you’re going to love “Edge of Darkness”, like I did.

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The Blind Side (2009)


Starring: Sandra Bullock, Quinton Aaron, Tim McGraw
Director: John Lee Hancock
Screenplay: John Lee Hancock (based on a book by Michael Lewis)
Rating: PG-13 for one scene involving brief violence, drug and sexual references

For Sandra Bullock 2009 was the best year of her career. The summer comedy “The Proposal” was a pretty big box-office hit and “The Blind Side” was not only a huge dollar-maker and it seems will guarantee her an Oscar. Quite a big leap from comedian to dramatic lead (much like Mo’Nique in “Precious”). Of course there was also the God-awfull “All About Steve”, but I’ll let that one slide.

“The Blind Side” is esentially the true story sports drama we’ve all seen before, featuring the underdog and the people who support him along the way to fullfiling his dreams and/or ambitions of becoming a hero on the field (or whatever arena the sport in question takes place in). However, director John Lee Hancock surprisingly moves freely past some boundaries while keeping the film safe at home in all the familiar sports movie cliches. The story follows a homeless african-american kid Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron), who one day happens to cross paths with the Touhys, a tipical southern republican family in love with sports and family values. Mama Touhy, Leigh Anne (Sandra Bullock), strong-willed and compassionate, takes Michael in and makes it her personal crusade to help him realise his full potential, which coincidentally is, since this IS a sports drama after all, to become offensive left tackle in the college footbal program, and later on being recruited by the NFL. The saving grace of this movie is that it concerns a little bit less with the sports and more with the dynamics betwenn the Touhys and Michael, which, in a nutshell, is like a kids-friendly version of “Precious”.

Michael has locked himself away from everything and everyone. He’s a defeated young man, with no hopes or prospects, who does not have the means to save himself. Until Leigh Anne Touhy reached out to him. A touching story that gets translated to the big screen with plenty of emotionality, sometimes pushing into blatant melodrama. Seemingly aware of the requirements of underdog stories, Hancock shifts some of the focus away from the result of Oher escaping his impoverished past and becoming an NFL football player. It’s not just the story of a football player, but the story of a human being, pulled away from the streets and given a chance to fully grow. Thus, Michael’s story is not one of success and fame, but one of salvation. The director pulls it off, even while conducting the sports drama elements in a by-the-numbers fashion and all the comic relief elements, such as the Touhy’s plucky young son S.J. (who provides some of the funniest moments on-screen). The story has strength and Hancock knows exactly how to mix it with all the rest of the things a crowd-pleasing Hollywood movie needs, in a manner that makes us forgive some of its superficial interpretations of real life (and there certainly are plenty of those too).

The cast is great, especially newcomer Quinton Aaron, who pulls off a superbly subtle and touching performance. He can express so much with just his eyes, that there’s practicaly no need for him to say any lines. We can sense his turmoil, but cannot fully understand it at first. He maintains a safe distance from everyone, slowly revealing his true self just as soon as he feels it is safe to. Bullock is also riveting, and safe to say that this is her career-defining moment, years in the making. Here she puts all her experience to work, delivering a dynamic, candid, surprisingly balanced performance. Clearly one of the best the year has to offer for leading actresses. I’m not sure I actually think she fully deserves the Oscar this year, though, but I’m sure she will be bestowed the honor, considering the awards she’s earned so far (Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild award, Broadcast Film Critics Association award). I guess, if she’s ever going to win an Oscar, it might as well be now.

Overall “The Blind Side” is essentially family entertainment, cleverly blending the inspirational true story sports genre with bits of social commentary, garnished with some laughs and sprinkled with healthy doses of melodrama and a solid cast, making it watchable for anyone seeking a fun and involving treat. It’s crafty cinema at its best, just don’t expect any profound experiences.

Precious (2009)


Starring : Gabourey Sidibe, Mo’Nique, Paula Patton, Mariah Carey
Director : Lee Daniels
Screenplay: Geoffrey Fletcher (based on a novel by Sapphire)
Rating: R for child abuse including sexual assault, and pervasive language

Anyone who follows the award season closely has probably already heard about, learned about, even seen “Precious”, or as it’s officialy titled by the distributor, “Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire”. Why such a painfully long title ? Marketing strategies so that everyone knows it’s based on THAT novel, and to avoid confusion with that awfull sci-fi thriller “Push”, though I personally like to be given more credit as a moviegoer.

The movie centers on familiar themes like abuse and dysfunctional family environment, but gives us a memorable and unique story that refreshes these themes, just in case we’ve forgotten what they’re about (and I’m not being ironic). In fact, I can safely say that cinema is in need of more stories like Precious’ sad one. Claireece Precious Jones (Gabourey Sidibe) is a broken soul. An obese, illiterate 16-year-old black girl living in Harlem with her oppresive mother Mary (Mo’Nique), abused by her father, twice impregnated by him, living her daily life split between dark reality and glamorous fantasies. Her only escape from the nightmare of reality is through her imagination which transforms her into anything other than who she really is. In her imagination, she becomes a singer, model, actress, even an ordinary pretty white blonde girl. She fantasises about love and dreams of having a loving family. She’s suspended from high-school when the principal finds out she’s pregnant for the second time, but is offered the chance to continue her studies in an alternative school program led by Ms. Raine (Paula Patton). Here she will find the suitable environment to learn not just to read and write, but also to sustain hope, dare to achieve more and eventually free herself from the suffering she’s endured. That is not to say everything will be all right, far from it, as life still has plenty of punches to pull, but Precious will find friendship and love she never thought actually existed, little things that will open up a whole new world for her.

Now, down to specifics. You have probably learned by now that “Precious” is a solid contender for Best Picture, Leading and Supporting Actress, and you’re probably wondering, is it really that good, or is it just that the critics are suckers for social awareness underdog stories. Well, it’s really that good, actually, although it has its own problems which make it fall short of perfection. Director Lee Daniels has great instinct when it comes to his cast. Even Mariah Carey is unrecognisable in this film, and fairly efficient. The cast is perfect in unexpected ways. In fact, that is probably the prevailing aspect of this film.

Sidibe, a first timer, through her balanced performance inspires not pity for Precious, but respect and compassion. The girl is damaged beyond hope, but she finds a way to get by, hiding her frailty under a layer of anger and stubborness. She hopes to save her children from ever going through what she did, and so she fights to escape her broken home. The scene in which she tearfully confesses to Ms Rain that the only thing love has done for her is hurt her, is an emotional powerhouse because Sidilbe’s performance is heartfelt, so we witness a real person’s confession, not an actress emoting.

Mo’Nique is particularly effective. She portrays nothing less than a monster, yet allows some streams of humanity pour through her at a crucial moment towards the end. We can’t possibly relate to her or even fully understand her in terms of humanity, but at that moment we get to see more of her inner-workings. Mo’Nique could have easily gone the other way and portray her as simply “evil”, but this way we deal with something a lot more complicated, another damaged human being, broken and hateful. This is even more of a triumph for her as an actress, considering her acting experience is concentrated in the comedy genre. There is nothing comical about Mary. She has tolerated the raping of her own daughter in her home, and continued to abuse Precious, blaming her for “stealing her man”, beating and degrading her because of the life she herself never had.

What Daniels handles badly are the fantasy scenes. The scenes where Precious imagines an alternate glittery life are intrusive and break the emotional connection with the character rather than help establish it. The contrast with the gritty style is necessary and serves to remind us how different the two versions of her life are, I understand that, but they feel like we’re being slapped over the head with that particular message. I don’t even think they were absolutely necessary, since the story is already strong enough to keep us engaged. It’s as if the director felt we could not understand what Precious feels and thinks, unless he employed some CGI and stylish cinematography. I personally couldn’t wait for the fantasy scenes to end and allow the film to move on. The voice-over narration was sufficient to help us create a mental image of her fantasies. I was dissapointed that the director doesn’t credit us with a little more imagination.

So, bottom-line, the film benefits greatly from an excellent cast and powerfull story but is somewhat hindered by the director’s heavy-handed use of pointless storytelling artifices. Even so, it’s still a relevant, brutally honest cinematic achievement and will definetly garner plenty of attention during this award season for its Sidibe and Mo’Nique.

Twilight (2008)


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Starring: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Billy Burke, Peter Facinelli, Cam Gigandet, Nikki Reed, Elizabeth Reaser, Jackson Rathbone, Sarah Clarke, Ashley Greene, Anna Kendrick, Justin Chon, Kellen Lutz, Edi Gathegi, Rachelle Lefevre, Christian Serratos
Director: Catherine Hardwicke
Screenwriter: Mark Lord, Melissa Rosenberg

Based on Stephenie Meyer’s bestselling novel with the same name, the debut of one of the most successful teen targeted franchises since the Olsen twins made millions in the ’90s by selling anything that could by signed and painted pink, „Twilight” is a movie that triggers two opposite reactions: hate – by the „too cool for anything this pathetic” individuals and love – by the „love is all around us and it’s fluffy” crowds. Of course, I am referring to teenage reactions, because any person above 17 and with a three digit IQ has enough sense to be neither impressed nor appalled: worst movies have been made (some won Oscars) and better movies, thank God, will still be made.

Bella (Kristen Stewart) is an average girl with an emo twist who moves with her father when she realizes that she is sort of standing in the way of her mother’s new marriage. Nobody says that she is, but she feels it, hence the emo twist. Her new home town is a perpetual rainy place where the people are simple and their minds cannot comprehend the complexity of Miss Swan’s intricate thought process and she thus is lonely and misunderstood. And just when you think she may be contemplating suicide, THE ONE  – you know, that fabulous soul mate that every movie teaches you to wait (if it’s a romantic one) or to find (if it’s a more modern and „feminist” one) , appears. His name is Edward Cullen and he has the great genes of Robert Pattinson, but he also has a little twist of his own: he is a 100 plus years old vampire who goes through possibly the worst drama of all: he has to relive high school over and over again. There is a bit of action provided by three unexpected undead visitors and the beginning of a love triangle that will fuel four more novels, over a thousand web sites and millions of fan wet dreams.

The movie is really better than what I expected. I’ve read the book, and I thank Mark Lord and Melissa Rosenberg for taking only a small fraction of Bella’s interior monologue and sparing me of „When life offers you a dream so far beyond any of your expectations, it’s not reasonable to grieve when it comes to an end.” or „It was a sea of darkness over my black overwhelming emotions and the sun will never rise again without Edward” (I may be paraphrasing the last quote, but you get my point). The first book being much better than the next three (yes, I’ve read them all, don’t judge!), they also have enough angst filled material  to tell a really well built teen romance, complete with alienation, fear of rejection, loneliness and the one thing all teens have in common: the conviction that this world revolves around them and their uniqueness. Also, the first novel of the “Twilight” saga depicts few events that underline the clumsy doormat personality of the main character, and the movie hides them well enough so that these annoying traits become practically invisible. A decent cinematography, some computer generated special effects (frankly, I’ve seen better in TV shows) and an overbearing feeling of depression and internal turmoil add their contribution to a relatable story, despite its fantasy premise. Adding a little action towards the end may have been the only thing that made me not fall asleep after what seemed like 1000 years of exposition.

The two main actors are above average. At first I thought Kristen Stewart may be one of the worst actresses ever, but she managed to make me like Bella, and I hated her in the books. The lines were the same, but she added a sense of fragility and shyness, and she seemed so uncomfortable all the time, exactly like a hypersensitive 16 year old would be, even though I am not sure that was acting or she was just playing herself. She had little to go on but she pulled it off. Robert Pattinson had even less to go on, as his character was a brooding seemingly perfect creature that treated his girlfriend like a 5 year old (sometimes rightly so), and every once in a while left her for her own good, but he managed to bring his character out of the abusive controlling type and, from time to time, even showed a shred of his patented charisma that will make you see what the fuss is all about. The rest are barely visible, but that is a good thing, as no one stands out as the worst link out of an already dull cast.

Over all, a decent portrayal of teenage angst, two chemistry filled leads and a compelling story (when it does not take itself too seriously), “Twilight” is the first part of a movie franchise that has the potential to break box office records.

Longford (2006)


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Starring: Jim Broadbent, Samantha Morton, Andy Serkis
Director: Tom Hooper
Screenwriter: Peter Morgan

Francis Aungier Pakenham, count of Longford, was certainly one of Great Britain’s controversial figures. Member of the labour party, president of the House of Lords, important figure in the government for some years, and a devout catholic, Lord Longford has made himself known to the public through his excentric character and numerous social projects, especially his work with prisoner rehabilitation and his attempts to ban pornography.

“Longford”, an original HBO production, follows the man’s activity (played by Jim Broadbent) since 1985, particularly his efforts to obtain a pardon for Myra Hindley (Samantha Morton), sentenced to life in prison for the murder of several children alongside her boyfriend, Ian Brady (Andy Serkis), also serving a life sentence in the same prison. Though permanently discouraged by his wife, Elizabeth (Lindsay Duncan), his family, colegues and the press, Longford never gave up on Myra, his valiant efforts ultimately resulting in his exclusion from the House of Lords.

It can safely be said that Lord Longford was indeed an excentric person, but also a fascinating individual.  The friendship he offered Myra was something quite scandalous at the time, but it also brings up issues of forgiveness even when faced with unspeakable atrocities, his own system of beliefs being built around the idea that no person is beyond forgiveness. The endeavour of saving someone like Myra seems like madness, but for him, it is his duty, as is any good catholic’s duty, to do all in his power to save lost souls.

However, at some point, Myra betrais this friendship by officially admiting her direct involvement in the murders, thus destroying Longfords reputation, and bringing him face to face with a crysis of faith. Forced to withdraw from the public eye, he finds strength in his beliefs once more and continues to work with prisoners until his death in 2001 at the age of 95.

The film is just as good as many other HBO productions, with an impressive array of awards and nominations including Golden Globes, Emmies, and BAFTA TV. The acting is fantastic, Broadbent evokes not just the physical appearance and gesturing of the real Longford, but also the profound feelings, innocence and complexity of a man who does not believe in absolute evil. Samantha Morton plays Myra with a subtle, icy strength, a strange duality, split between apparent innocence, mistery and dignity, embracing her guilt and punishment while defying any kind of help. Andy Serkis, as Myra’s murderous boyfriend, delivers a commanding performance, sinister and menacing without overacting and in very short appearances. Overall, it’s a wonderfull cast that make the film worth seeing all by themselves. The interactions between the characters are the salt and pepper of the film, a duel of hearts and human spirit

A lengthier film might have been been a plus, because it feels as if there might have been material here for more that just 90 minutes, but I have to take into account that it is a TV production, so compactness is a virtue I guess. It might have made a handsome mini-series, but there’s still enough depth and complexity to make it a unique experience.

The Breakfast Club (1985)


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Starring: Paul Gleason, Molly Ringwald, Emilio Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall, John Kapelos, Judd Nelson, Ally Sheedy, Ron Dean

Screenwriter and Director: John Hughes

John Hughes passed away this August, but his legacy remains, as he produced, written or directed some of  the most successful movies of the ‘80s and ‘90s: “National Lampoon’s Vacation”, ”Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”,  “Weird Science”, “ The Breakfast Club”, “Some Kind of Wonderful”, “Sixteen Candles”,  “Pretty in Pink”, “Planes”, “Trains and Automobiles”, “Uncle Buck”, “Home Alone” and its sequel “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York”. His ability to talk to teenagers without being condescending, without minimizing their already small and passionate universe and without making one of the worst mistakes a teen targeted flick writer could do: talk about the former generation instead of the current one – these were some of the reasons his movies were very well received. Some of them even set the tone for countless series and movies to come, as every teen drama has at least one mention of the iconic “The Breakfast Club” and at least one attempt of imitating one of its scenes.

It’s amazing what can be done with very little setting and a fairly simple idea: five very different teenagers belonging to opposed high school cliques end up spending the Saturday in the school library, each having broken a conduct rule. The school is the stage, and seven people are the actors. Andrew (Emilio Estevez) is a jock with a wrestling ambition, but it becomes very clear that that ambition belongs to Clark Senior rather than Junior. The constant pressure has him wishing for a permanent injury and drives him to bully others, making him ashamed of his behavior, and the shame adds even more pressure… a full inescapable circle. Claire Standish (Molly Ringwald) is the prom queen, the prize over which the two halves of a bitter marriage fight.  Rewarded and pampered, she is not actually missed or loved. John Bender (Judd Nelson) is “the criminal” and the only one from a working class background. The constant abuse has him lashing out against everyone, making him to always go out of his way trying to be obnoxious. He is the one that rattles everybody’s cages so that the premise can be outlined. Brian Johnson (Anthony Michael Hall) the brain of the group, the geek that cannot conceive a low grade. When he receives an F at shop class, he acts out in an unusual way and gets detention. And finally, the basket case: Allison Reynolds (Ally Sheedy), a compulsive liar and a sometimes kleptomaniac who is severely deprived of human contact and attention and whose internal void and loneliness has her attaching herself to this unlikely group in the hope of any kind of bonding. They all talk like ’80s teens do, and it still rings true (either that or I’m old). They try to stand out; they all have short attention spans, a predilection for experiencing new forbidden grounds and a desperate need to be unique. On top of that lays a desire common to us all: to be loved for what they are underneath their façades.

This is the movie that set the mark for stereotyping high school life into groups. We all know that cheerleaders are beautiful and popular, geeks are harassed daily and weirdoes are singled out. I frankly do not remember my cretaceous high school era as being so overwhelming. Yes, there is that obvious fight to not be at the bottom of the social pyramid, but other than that, it is fun. Or it should be. The script does not surprise very much because it does not need to: the point of the story is that the typical masks uncover ordinary family tales. Nothing is extreme; nothing makes you gasp in astonishment. Because these cheap tricks would alienate the target audience, the ones that should be able to point at one of the five characters and say: “That is sooooooo me in 10th grade!”. It is authentic and real instead of over the top. That is one of the characteristics of John Hughes’ work.

It also seems to be one of the major strengths of the cast. They blend tighter together as they separate their stories and they all seem to reverting back to their teen years without any visible effort. One of the main reasons I support the “Beverly Hills 90210” type of casting (remember the balding 16 years old Dylan McKay? Or Andrea, the menopausal school paper editor?) is this kind of acting work, acting that does not make your brain melt (have you ever seen Shanae Grimes “act”? Her full-on seizure face contrasts with her deadpan delivery making it impossibly embarrassing to watch).

John Hughes has one of the characters say that “when you grow up your heart dies”. The good thing is that these teens will never grow up because all we will ever see of them are these 90 minutes of anguish.  Nobody will ever know what happened to them after they left the library, and maybe it’s for the best. One of the most referenced movies in history, “The Breakfast Club” is a ‘80s classic.

21 (2008)


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Starring: Jim Sturgess, Kevin Spacey, Kate Bosworth, Laurence Fishburne
Director: Robert Luketic
Screenwriter: Peter Steinfeld, Allan Loeb
Rating: PG-13 for some violence, and sexual content including partial nudity
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21 is a rare breed in the sea of blockbusters. It’s a film with modest means which milks its intriguing idea for all it’s got and succeeds in surpassing its more glamorous competition. Such creations are regarded as underdogs, but when directed with taste and feeling, they can surely pay off.

Inspired from actual events (wich makes it about 80-90% fiction), „21” tells the story of a group of MIT students, the best of the best, who under the guidance of a brilliant statistics proffesor (Kevin Spacey), equiped with fake ID’s and trained in the art of what is known as „counting cards”, strike blow after blow in the monetary hearts of Las Vegas’ finest casinos. The last recruit in the group is Ben Campbell (Jim Sturgess), who desperately needs 300,000$ to be accepted at Harvard. But the taste of money and pleasure is enough to corrupt anyone, so Ben leaves his old life behind and sinks deeper into the world of gamblers, losing his soul, bit by bit, at the card tables of Sin City. When an old school overseer (old school as in a Scorsese type that applies brutal treatment to cheaters), played by a very large Laurence Fishburne, catches onto the trickesters, Ben in particular, the rules of the game change and the stakes are absolute.

The world of casino cheaters is not really something we’ve never seen before, but the idea of MIT students pulling the tricks and the fact that it’s based on fact, is a welcome change and well handled by the director and screenwriter. The pacing is quick and enthusiasticly flashy, sometimes resembling a music video, especially during the card games, which could get boring without a bit of sound and editing wizardry. The characters are pretty sketchy, but the eager cast more than makes up for it, holding the story on their own terms, adding where it’s lacking. The believability factor also takes a nose dive sometimes, but nothing to worry about, since you’re not required to think about it. It’s all fast and charming, thanks to Russel Carpenters’ cinematography („Titanic”), who relies heavily on digital cameras, obtaining an effect similar to Michael Mann’s recent films (like „Collateral” or „Public Enemies”). The editing is even more coherent that is expected from such MTV generation films, even when it turns scenes into a surreal hallucination of sorts.

It’s fairly obvious this is not a complex or profound experience. It just has some well used aces up its sleeve : the simple but intriguing plot, enough visual energy to keep things moving and enhance the atmosphere creating fluid scenes, good to great acting, all leading to the conclusion that during its aproximativelly 118 minutes it provides quality entertainment and nothing more. It’s not a Best Picture nominee, and it certainly doesn’t aim that high. The director is well aware of what kind of film this is, so he never pushes it, he just lets it be the best it can be, enough to make it worth seeing at least once.