Category Archives: Against the Odds

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Interstellar (2014) 3.7/5 (8)

 

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Rating: The Good – 71.5
Genre: Science Fiction, Adventure
Duration: 169 mins
Director: Christopher Nolan
Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Michael Caine, Matt Damon

An elegantly directed sci-fi adventure considerably undermined by yet another painfully flat Nolan screenplay, Interstellar charts the epic attempts of a small group of scientists and astronauts to locate a planet capable of supporting the human race as its Earthly sustenance quickly dries up. Mathew McConaughey heads the cast as the mission’s pilot desperate to get back to the children he left behind before they age beyond the point where he can help them while Ann Hathaway’s stiffish scientist and a couple of nicely conceived robots keep him company on board the spacecraft. Back on Earth, Michael Caine is the brains behind the mission, Jessica Chastain is the grown up version of McConaughey’s equally clever daughter, and Casey Affleck is his son who, like the majority of remaining humans, is attempting to farm what’s left of their desertification-headed planet.

Regaining his 2008 Dark Knight directorial form, writer-director Christopher Nolan composes a quite beautiful and thrilling action thriller that achieves a perfect balance between mood and energy with no small help from Hans Zimmer’s sublime score. Making the deftest use of Hoyte Van Hoytema’s stark and striking cinematography, he avoids overplaying the CGI card keeping the story front and centre. The story isn’t bad either and, predictable as its key moments are, it serves Nolan’s grand ambitions for a Kubrickian like space epic. More the pity then that the screenplay does not. Bloated with expositional dialogue and artificial sentiment, it bungles its way towards a gargantuan mishandling of a straightforward (“save the world before it’s too late”) premise with the kind of overblown piece of psycho-physical drivel that plagued Inception. Co-penned with his more adept writer-brother (Jonathan sat Inception out), this script at least shows more restraint than that 2010 monument to tedium but not nearly enough to engender its protagonists nor their dilemmas with the depth and cadences that the premise deserved. The well conceived drama emerging from the astronauts ageing more slowly than their loved ones back home is an exception to this and proves to be the movie’s one successful appeal to the audience’s emotions.

Ultimately, the problem with Interstellar is yet again one of Nolan reaching beyond his capabilities by attempting to match the work of masters who simply operated at a level higher than his own (that’s not an insult Chris, most filmmakers toil in the shadows of Kubrick and Tarkovsky!). The innumerable references to 2001: A Space Odyssey eventually feel less like a homage and more like an attempt to disguise that failure, proving far more imitative than emulative. That said, the couple of HAL-inspired robots (the Bill Irwin-voiced “TARS” in particular) work fantastically within the confines of this story, coming alive in a whirl of mechanised motion during the best of the action sequences and adding most of the humour outside of them. And, thankfully, it’s these such lighter more grounded touches that sees Interstellar passing muster as a sci-fi thriller even while failing as an attempt at something more profound.

A Few Good Men (1992) 4/5 (1)

 

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Rating: The Good – 76
Genre: Drama
Duration: 138 mins
Director: Rob Reiner
Stars: Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson, Demi Moore

One of the most quoted movies in recent decades, Rob Reiner and Aaron Sorkin’s legal drama pits Tom Cruise’s talented young JAG Corps officer against Jack Nicholson’s tyrannical Marine Corps division commander. Cruise excels as the plucky lawyer faced with the task of defending two marines on trial for murder. However, this one will always be remembered for his co-star’s scenery-chewing turn as the defendants’ base commander and the man behind their illicit orders to “train” the soon-to-be victim. A host of top names fill out the rest of the bill with both Demi Moore and Kevin Pollak (as Cruiser’s legal team) playing more grounded roles than was typical of their careers at that point. Kevin Bacon is his usual safe pair of hands as the prosecutor while a nasty Kiefer Sutherland and the late great J.T. Walsh offer strong support as Nicholson’s underlings. Sorkin’s sharp script is best remembered for its relentless courtroom dialogue but it’s laced with subtleties that augment the drama from all angles. From its nods to the various character’s backgrounds to the unspoken enmity between the Marines and the Navy, they provide a rich subtext to the plot. From the director’s chair, Reiner generates a palpable tension and swift pace from the screenplay with much help from composer Marc Shaiman’s exciting score and, of course, his two leads. Though “Colonel Nathan Jessup” has probably gone down as Nicholson’s most famous role and though he certainly provides the lion’s share of the movie’s dramatic thump, it’s not the most nuanced piece of acting we’ve seen from the screen legend. Playing up to a caricature of his own celebrity, he never attempts to escape his “Big Jack” persona and is content to let his famous sneering delivery and scathing smile do most of the work. Not that it hurts the movie in the slightest but it seems a relevant footnote when discussing one of modern cinema’s most memorable characters.

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Friday Night Lights (2004) 3.57/5 (5)

 

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Rating: The Good – 70.5
Genre: Sport, Drama
Duration: 118 mins
Director: Peter Berg
Stars: Billy Bob Thornton, Jay Hernandez, Derek Luke

Director Peter Berg and writer David Aaron Cohen’s adaptation of H.G. “Buzz” Bissinger’s novel chronicles the travails of a football mad Texas town and their high school team’s attempt to win the State Championship amidst social and personal pressures. Living up to the seminal novel was always going to be next to impossible especially for a (albeit) solid journeyman like Berg but there’s no denying this one just sort of works. From the bone shaking tackles, the swagger of the touchdowns, to the strategising on the sidelines, Berg does every bit of the game justice and so the audience will be suitably engrossed on that level alone. But it’s the team camaraderie and off-field personal tests that coach and players alike face throughout the season that gives this movie its substance despite Berg and Cohen presenting only fleeting snippets of each drama ‘s due to time limitations. Berg quite smartly uses the energy of the rough and tumble to exhilarate the audience and then funnel it into some rather touching moments of emotion when needed. It’s all very explicit with plenty of slow motion shots and uplifting score but, because of its honesty and Berg and Cohen’s success in binding us to the players, the resultant goosebumps are guilt free and welcome. Billy Bob Thornton puts in an outstanding shift as the thoughtful coach desperate to keep both his self respect and his job despite their mutual interference. But it’s a bunch of unknowns that fill out the rest of the cast and not one puts a foot wrong. Modest in its aims yet efficient in its execution, Friday Night Lights does what all good sports dramas should do and remains respectful of the source material as it goes. Nicely done Mr Berg.

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Guilty Pleasures

Lone Survivor (2013) 3.19/5 (3)

 

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Rating: The Ugly – 60
Genre: Action, War
Duration: 121 mins
Director: Peter Berg
Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Ben Foster, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch

Highly dramatised account of a Navy SEAL team’s desperate attempt to escape dozens of Taliban during a compromised mission in Afghanistan. Peter Berg is a curious director. A glance at his CV and he could look like simply another journeyman director. But every now and then he pops up with a film that seems uniquely his. The fact that Lone Survivor counts as one such movie is both good and bad for Berg. Good because we have a movie with its own personality but bad because the cheesiness and fundamental idiocy of the plot must therefore reflect largely on him. Far from being an unashamed propaganda movie, Lone Survivor is a crudely veiled one. It doesn’t focus on the skill of the soldiers as a more straight up propaganda piece would. Instead, it’s an attempt to appeal to the emotional bonds that exist between the them. By placing them in a hopeless situation and having them shepherd each other to safety, bullet-ridden and broken… but never beaten. Of course, most propaganda films will play on the audience’s heartstrings aiming for emotional resonance. But Berg doesn’t simply play on them. He bounces on them – trampoline style. Some action fans will forgive this. Many won’t – and the truly awful dialogue during these gut wrenching moments won’t help them to in the slightest.

But for those who can forgive it’s more ridiculous qualities, there are rich rewards to be had in the action department. For Lone Survivor is a relentless shrapnel cloud of an action film, more visceral than most. The final hour is an excruciating embellishment on the levels of pain and punishment these men supposedly volunteer for and, as the opening scene alludes to, even crave. Sure, we recently had a rather complex analysis of this peculiar personality in the The Hurt Locker and, in contrast, Berg’s more exaggerated and fallow depiction of war addiction seems all the more disrespectful to the actual men and women of combat. However, what it lacks in subtlety and insight it makes up for in thump by putting us right in the middle of his imagined experience. An experience that amounts to a discombobulation of close quarter hillside combat interspersed with bone crunching mountain tumbling and lung bursting falls.

If the film is let down by a lack of believability in the action stakes, it’s not making up any ground in its character development. The four SEALS are introduced briefly in the beginning but any notion of building on that gets lost once the bullets start flying. And when two of those guys are played by Ben Foster and Emile Hirsch, it’s an unforgivable waste. Needless to say, the bad guys, to specify, the Taliban, are even more one dimensional. Strangely bedecked with ‘Ming the Merciless’ inspired makeup (just in case their slaughter of unarmed civilians didn’t make them seem mean enough), the story would’ve been made at least somewhat substantial if they were given even a modicum of personality. So extreme are they in their badness that the inclusion of a village of kind Afghans towards the end seems all the more conspicuous and, worse, tokenistic. A painful coda dedicated to their real life contribution to the SEAL’s escape only compounds this.

Where Berg truly fails however is in confusing his audience with respect to how he frames his heroes. We’re asked to sit in awe of their dedication, skill, and courage yet the tactical ineptitude that these supposed elite soldiers demonstrate is mind boggling. Their decision making, rationale, and professional comportment appear rather sloppy even to the layman. In the absence of any commentary on this supposed true event, we are left scratching our heads as to how this could’ve happened. Who knows how much liberty was taken in the adaptation but Hollywood is usually guilty of overplaying their heroes not underplaying them let alone leave the audience uncertain as to how much respect they deserve. What is for certain is that we miss much of the action as we ruminate on it. Given that the action is the solitary virtue of this movie, that’s all the more unfortunate.

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The Equalizer (2014) 2.47/5 (4)

 

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Rating: The Bad – 57.9
Genre: Crime, Action
Duration: 132 mins
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Stars: Denzel Washington, Marton Csokas, Chloë Grace Moretz

A numbingly formulaic action thriller the likes of which Denzel Washington can make watchable in his sleep. Which he kind of does. The movie adaptation of the Edward Woodward led television show focuses on yet another ex-spy/secret agent/assassin who gets caught up with the Russian mob while living under an assumed identity. Cue boo-hissable bad guys with scars, tattoos, and intimidating scowls, painfully earnest action sequences anchored in slow motion (so that we can see just how skilled out hero is), and straw characters reflecting just enough cheese-ball sentiment to justify our hero’s return to the dark side.

Who knows if this might’ve worked in a Jason Bourne free world but, as it stands (alongside Taken and a dozen other fallow pretenders), it’s just so much noise. So bad ass was Bourne that he has managed to kill every other action hero before they’re even written. And while the Equaliser is a pre-existing character and, originally, a much more interesting one, his 21st Century incarnation was never going to be anything but another guy with a “very specific [and very, very boring] skill set”. Comparisons with Bourne just serve to accentuate their inescapable blandness. And by the way, that skill set here includes a very lethal but unintentionally amusing use of DIY tools. That would be neither here nor there but Chloë Grace Moretz’ under-utilised presence as the hooker with the heart of gold might just confuse some into thinking that Denzel’s “DIY-Man” is part of some unauthorised Kick Ass sequel.

Of course, Denzel is nonetheless Denzel and his natural burning charisma makes this movie just about bearable. In fact, if The Equaliser does anything, it stands as testimony to the strength of that charisma because Washington isn’t even trying here. Granted there’s not much of a script to try with but this movie is a continuation of the type of cruise control/paycheck mode that has defined his career since Training Day. Fuqua was the director behind that one too but he had David Ayer’s boiling screenplay to work off. All he’s armed with here is that slow motion button and the predictability of a climactic showdown in the rain. Well under a sprinkler system – just so long as we get a close up of the hero’s face wet with victory and with the water very, very slowly dripping off it. You know, so as to emphasise the magnitude of the moment.

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schindlers-list

Schindler’s List (1993) 4.81/5 (3)

 

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Rating: The Good – 93.7
Genre: War, History
Duration: 195 mins
Director: Steven Spielberg
Stars: Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Kingsley

Steven Spielberg’s most personal film about the attempt of a German industrialist to save 1,100 Jews from the gas chambers by cajoling, bribing, and manipulating the greedy, preening officers of the SS camp in which they worked. There are few subjects so in need of honourable treatment than the Holocaust of WWII and that might explain why there are precious few cinematic accounts out there. That the most moving came from the master of the big screen adventure is both unlikely and likely. Yes, he is better known for movies aimed at younger audiences that leave little if anything to the imagination (because he succeeds so completely in getting it all up there on screen) but by the early 90’s, Steven Spielberg had already shown us he was capable of crafting touching broad-scale dramas with the likes of The Colour Purple. He had also demonstrated a cultured understanding of moviemaking with masterpieces like Jaws. That said, his experience with the ‘in-your-face’ cinematic techniques of the Hollywood emotional payoff is as much responsible for the effectiveness of this film as his more deft qualities. For the holocaust is a piece of history that requires in-your-face type confrontation. The cruelty and horror of what happened to the Jews needs to be shoved down our throats every now and then so we truly don’t forget. Yes, the artistry of the more subtle scenes elevates this film to the echelons of cinematic greatness and that is edifying for its status as a film, and yes, the more mature examination of the complexities of cruelty, guilt, and mass hatred can culture our understanding of humanity. But it’s the refusal to shy away from the raw horror of what happened that gives this film it’s universal resonance and that is imperative.

The result is a gruelling watch that will turn your face to stone yet in some small way do justice the suffering. Technically, there’s barely a false note played from the set and costume design to the sound production. But standing out is without doubt Janusz Kaminisk’s stunningly lit monochromatic photography. Spielberg’s use of his work here is nothing short of sublime from the moment he introduces his main character to the his final scene. In retrospect it seems now that nobody could inhabit this carefully constructed space better than Liam Neeson. He brings all the gravitas of an A-lister to the film but with the daring of an actor who has had to work for a living. It’s a tightrope of a turn that requires capturing all the ego, manipulation, caring, and bravery of the man. As his right hand man, Itzhak Stern, Ben Kingsley is beyond praise. Ralph Fiennes is to be commended too for giving what could’ve (and may well have been in reality) a mono-dimensionally evil character enough layers to, not excuse his actions (and those of many others like him), but to explain them.

However, whether the conversation be the acting, the editing, or John Williams deeply moving score, one always comes back to the director. It may have been a personal project but that in no way comprises his clarity. Despite the broad scale of both the story and the emotions it evokes, Schindler’s List is as focused a work as anything that has graced the medium and made with a level of skill that at times is breathtaking. The varied manner and innumerable methods that Spielberg uses to lay bare the cruelty and indignity with which the Jews were treated is as chilling as it is ingenious and it’s through these contrasts or critical junctures between the surreal and real that this indictment and essential analysis of one race’s inhumanity to another is enacted. And while one race in particular will be forever under scrutiny for these actions, the film’s greatest achievement is that it rises above the primal tendency to point fingers. That Spielberg chooses a German to be the hero in this tale is of course his essential message – the Jewish Holocaust was and is a human problem not a German one.

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Blue-Ruin

Blue Ruin (2013) 3.43/5 (2)

 

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Rating: The Good – 77.4
Genre: Thriller
Duration: 90 mins
Director: Jeremy Saulnier
Screenplay: Jeremy Saulnier
Stars: Macon Blair, Devin Ratray, Amy Hargreaves

“No speeches, no talkin. You point the gun, you shoot the gun.” From simple ideas, great stories come and when in the hands of disciplined film makers, they can thrive on screen. With its spartan screenplay, understated performances, and strong direction, Blue Ruin is a case in point. Macon Blair puts in a strangely magnetic turn as a man left traumatised and homeless by the murder of his parents who returns to his hometown to exact revenge on their killer. Once done, he gets sucked into a war with the killer’s siblings which reveals an unconventional aptitude for (or at least commitment to) murder. A low profile support cast admirably fills out the rest of the movie but this one is all about Blair’s sympathetic lost soul performance and the  stirring originality of the central premise – a man with nothing to lose who gives as good as he gets. There’s nothing very original about the plot but through Jeremy Saulnier slow-roll direction and his spare but thoughtful script, it plays out in remarkably authentic manner. Never dragging and laced with genuinely shocking moments, Blue Ruin grabs hold of its audience in much the same manner that Blood Simple did. Like that movie, it suffers on the sound production front but, again, as with Blood Simple, the unprocessed vibe that comes with such indie film-making seems to champion the film’s aversion to any romantic notions of vengeance. In its place, we get that rarest of flowers, a revenge movie that delivers on what it promises but with the balancing forces of compassion, maturity, and social commentary. It’s raw, it’s gritty, it’s powerful and it’s just so damn fresh that Blue Ruin becomes the type of satisfying experience that every now and then pops up to reinvigorate the medium.

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Seven Samurai (1954) 5/5 (2)

 

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Rating: The Good – 96.7
Genre: Jidaigeki
Duration: 207 mins
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Stars: Toshirô Mifune, Takashi Shimura, Keiko Tsushima

This inspired meditation on class, morality, passion, and duty is Akira Kurosawa’s finest hour behind the camera and possibly Mifune’s finest hour in front of it. As funny as it is touching, there’s not a single aspect of this film that could’ve been improved upon and it offers more than perhaps any other. Watch how Kurosawa wonderfully counterbalances the necessarily languid scenes where the characters are waiting for the battles to commence with the shocking brutality of those battles one they begin. As incredible as Toshiro Mifune is he’s equalled by Takashi Shimura’s simmering portrayal of the head samurai which is one of most quietly powerful pieces of acting ever captured by a camera. With every rub of his shaven head Shimura expounds kindness, generosity of spirit, and a keen sense of leadership and in doing so, his performance as much as any other aspect of the film reflects the soul of this poingent masterpiece. Timeless.

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Out of the Furnace (2013) 3.14/5 (2)

 

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Rating: The Good – 65.3
Genre: Thriller
Duration: 116 mins
Director: Scott Cooper
Stars: Christian Bale, Casey Affleck, Sam Shepard, Willem Dafoe

Scott Cooper’s down and dirty small town revenge drama is a sometimes interesting film made with all the right intentions but also a lack of directorial savvy. Christian Bale and Casey Affleck are brothers struggling to get their lives on track after a jail sentence and traumatising tour of Iraq respectively. Bale is the more sensible elder brother who’s back at the local steel mill which is threatening to close for good while Affleck has taken to underground fighting to pay his debts. When the latter gets mixed up with some mountain folk and their bare knuckle and meth dealing rackets, he disappears leaving his brother and uncle, played by the evergreen Sam Shepard, to track down the vicious maniac responsible.

Cooper takes a meditative approach to Out of the Furnace, employing an extended yet concealed introduction of the main characters. Lots is alluded to but, with sparse dialogue and an abundance of secondary characters, nothing is for sure. For a film that moves as slow as this, there’s actually a lot going on in the way of character dynamics and what Cooper is trying to say about the daily lives of his working class protagonists. And with a cast like this, one would expect some powerful drama. Unfortunately, it all runs a little flat save for a handful of scenes as Cooper’s incompatible ambitions see it fall between two stools. In the first place, there’s just too many characters in play to justify that meditative style. Taking time in the buildup can be a virtue (and a rare one these days) but it hurts this movie as its focus constantly bounces around from one of the many characters to another. Furthermore, long periods without dialogue with only brief interludes of character interaction make it difficult to engage with even the main characters despite the wealth of acting talent behind them. Setting the characters amongst some palpable conflict or anxiety can offset this but Cooper and co-writer Brad Ingelsby simply allude to their troubled backgrounds and keep them completely separate from their current travails. This itself can often be an elegant approach to storytelling but again the wrong choice here as it compounds the first problem. And finally, when Cooper finally gets around to colouring in between the lines, he paints a fairly bleak picture making it yet more difficult to stay invested. On paper, he may make all the right moves but the final cut unsurprisingly fails to add up to the sum of its parts. Matters aren’t helped by some overfamiliar motifs and the equally worn metaphors used to tease them out – does cinema really need another moment of personal revelation involving a seasoned hunter’s sudden inability to shoot a cute deer?

Regardless of Cooper’s slip ups in shooting his script, the sterling cast ensures a reasonably entertaining if frustrating watch. Bale is terrific as usual and despite having to do most of it in silence, he inhabits the soul of his character in the manner we’ve become accustomed to. Affleck does what he can though both he and Bale alike would’ve benefited from a few substantial scenes together. Ditto Sam Shepard. Willem Dafoe tantalises with an extended cameo as Affleck’s bookie but Forest Whitaker’s turn as the local chief of police is utterly wasted. Woody Harrelson has won most of the plaudits as the crazed yokel and Cooper does his level best to raise the intimidation factor including a needless and unimaginatively violent introduction at the opening of the film. To be fair, the star reborn gives it plenty of oomph but again, we have to ask: is it anything we haven’t seen before?

Ultimately, it’s this level of over-familiarity that may wear most on the viewer and it doesn’t stop there. Though apparently written in 2011, the story bears strong resemblances to 2010’s Winter’s Bone, 2011’s Warrior, and 2012’s The Place Beyond the Pines right down to Masanobu Takayanagi’s moody photography. However, though it may lose points for unoriginality, following the formula set forth in those sleeper hits reaps some rewards for Cooper’s film because, like in those movies, Out of the Furnace comes alive during its tenser moments. It’s also in these moments where the actors’ contributions pay off most effectively. The inevitable showdown at the end is itself quite well handled and Bale in particular is brilliant in a scene defined by a more everyday act of heroism than those that revenge films typically play out to. And even if it does sign off with another (lets say) “nod” to The Deer Hunter – the final shot is a decent attempt to satisfy the story both narratively and thematically.

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The Firm 1

The Firm (1993)

 

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Rating: The Good – 67.5
Genre: Thriller
Duration: 154 mins
Director: Sydney Pollack
Stars: Tom Cruise, Gene Hackman, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Ed Harris

Star studded legal thriller with a still fresh faced Tom Cruise as the brash young attorney whose dream job at a Memphis law firm turns into a nightmare when he discovers they’re a front for the Mafia. Throw in a meddling FBI and a largely unseen Chicago mobster and the scene is set for some old school thrills and a nice spot of running for the always eager Cruiser. As usual for a John Grisham adaptation, an array of cracking characters lie at the base to this movie played by no one but the cream. Hal Holbrook, Holly Hunter, Wildord Brimely, David Strathairn, Ed Harris, Gary Busey, Jeanne Tripplehorn, and Paul Sorvino are all in top form while Cruise puts in a strong shift as he was, at the time, just emerging from the shadow of his late 80’s “pretty face” status. However, it’s Gene Hackman as Cruise’s incorrigible yet charming mentor who steals the show. The movie comes alive the moment he shows up and he adds much needed droll to the otherwise stiff suited side to the movie. As as you’d expect from the man behind some of the great 70’s thrillers, Sydney Pollack ratchets up the tension and strikes a relatively even balance with the personal drama even if he could do nothing for the Cruise-Tripplehorn mismatch as husband and wife! He does however manage to keep his audience distracted from the story’s sometimes ludicrous plot developments – a useful skill for a Grisham thriller! John Seale’s photography gives Memphis an intriguingly inviting yet obscure quality which actually complements the conspiratorial tone of the movie while not alienating the mainstream audience. Ditto Robert Towne, David Raybe, and David Rayfiel’s screenplay. It’s just a shame that Dave Grusin’s score couldn’t do the same as it bounces buoyantly among the octaves, too often oblivious to the cadences of the script. The whole thing runs about 35 minutes too long but it’s worth hanging in there if only to see Tom use his briefcase to beat seven shades of crap out of Brimely’s slightly ridiculous but eminently enjoyably bag man.

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The Verdict (1982) 4.43/5 (1)

 

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Rating: The Good – 87.6
Genre: Drama
Duration: 129 mins
Director: Sidney Lumet
Stars: Paul Newman, Jack Warden, James Mason

Sidney Lumet must have felt that having made what is generally regarded as one of the best “court-room” dramas in history without shooting more than one scene inside the courtroom (12 Angry Men) that he was obliged to, at some point, make a great courtroom drama where much of the dramatic punch was actually delivered in a courtroom. Mission accomplished. Paul Newman stars as the washed up alcoholic ambulance chaser Frank Galvin who sees an opportunity for redemption in a malpractice case which nobody thinks he can win. Lumet sets a remarkably slow but immensely arresting pace throughout this film and in doing so, he imbues the drama with all shades of theme, tone, and meaning to fully convey the sense and weight of Galvin’s desperate life. Newman was quite simply never better and he gives one of the purest acting performances the medium has offered in its long history. With every word, look, and movement we see a depth of decay and self-loathing constantly threatening to consume him but staved off by the one thing that is bolstering them: his innate decency. Jack Warden is, as always, pitch perfect in support as Galvin’s old mentor and James Mason and Milo O’Sea do their utmost in helping to sound out some of the film’s more menacing tones. The Verdict is as satisfying a film as you’ll see which is a feat in itself given it tells an ostensibly depressing story. But it’s to Newman and Lumet’s credit that they not only root out the humanity in this dark tale but also shine such an honest light on it.

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Apocalypto (2006) 3.36/5 (4)

 

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Rating: The Good – 84.5
Genre: Action, Adventure
Duration: 139 mins
Director: Mel Gibson
Stars: Gerardo Taracena, Raoul Trujillo, Dalia Hernández

Make no mistake, this is a film unlike anything you’ve seen before. On the face of it, the two sides to the story seem standard enough. On one side, you have a dramatic account of the decadent last days of a once great civilisation and a forgotten way of life. On the other, you have a break-neck violent chase film that makes the central pursuit in Butch Cassidy look tame. However, together you have one of the most blindingly original and substantial action movies ever made. Thus, writer-director Mel Gibson and co-writer Farhad Safinia’s first stroke of genius was in spotting how the former story would make the perfect context for the latter. Their second stroke of genius involved the brave decision to shoot the entire film in ancient Mayan and entirely on location in central and south American rain forests. This paid dividends as it added a unique air of authenticity and relevance to the different aspects of the story whether they be the quiet and communal life of the tribes people, the brutality of their capture by the savage mercenary warriors, the horror of them being sacrificed in the big city, or the frenzied invigoration of their fleetest warrior’s escape.

This is one of those rare films that grabs you by the senses and refuses to let you go from the calm beauty of the earlier scenes to the adrenaline rush of the later scenes. Dean Semler’s cinematography is utterly extraordinary and with Gibson’s sensibilities for action they capture some of the best and most beautiful action witnessed on screen. In many ways, this is the film Hero should’ve been. Gibson knows when to unveil some of the more stunning shots of the forest and when to focus on the grittier elements. The fighting has a thrust and impact which gives the film a remarkable visceral quality and, when he combines the two, he does it at the right time and always with discipline and foresight. The actors are very much unknown Native, Central, and South Americans but they are exceptionally good. In particular Rudy Youngblood gives us an iconic hero (intelligent and quick rather than brutish and strong) whom we are only too happy to root for. An action cinema masterclass!

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