Monday, April 28, 2014

ENOUGH SAID

James Gandolfini, Julia Louis-Dreyfus,
Catherine Keener, Toni Collette


I thought that this was James Gandolfini's last film before he died of a massive heart attack in 2013. But it turns out he was able to complete one more before his untimely demise.

Anyway in "Enough Said" he is Albert, a single father who meets Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), a freelance masseuse. They are both single parents to daughters who are about to go off to college. They start dating but soon enough problems crop up (like in any normal relationship) and things don't work out between them.

But that was merely a quick summary of their relationship because the film isn't that simple nor was it too complicated to comprehend. It is an adult romantic comedy that explores the nuances as well as the emotions that each character brings to the relationship. By adult, I mean it is mature given that both Eva and Albert have gone through divorces and heartaches in their past. And not adult in the sense that there is nudity involved. Heh!

I'd say that a large part why this film succeeds is due to the chemistry between its lead characters. And given that they are portrayed by well known TV actors whose acting repertoire include playing mob boss Tony Soprano and Elaine from Seinfeld is a an added bonus.  

There has always been something endearing about Gandolfini even though he portrayed a tough no nonsense mobster in one of the most iconic roles ever created for TV. Perhaps it is his 'smiley' face and gentle facial features despite his giant frame that somehow puts people at ease.

Here as Albert, he is adorable as an ordinary guy just trying to live his life after a messy divorce by being a devoted father to his daughter. He is averagely ordinary and I mean that as a compliment. Albert's embedded confidence and his sense of humour exudes warmth and compassion. Excellent acting from Gandolfini, as expected.

On the other hand, Julia Louis-Dreyfus can sometimes be quite annoying and irritating in general in most of her roles. Hehe.  But this only means she is an effective actress as her annoyance can really get on my nerves.  As Eva, she is a woman with a lot of valid anxieties which is quite normal for any woman about to embark on a new relationship. It makes sense that Eva would be indecisive and insecure and always question herself before she commits to another long term relationship. 

What makes "Enough Said" distinctive is how the director treats the plot devoid of any gimmick. What you see is what you get.  There isn't the sickening mushy factor that is standard in most romantic comedies. The approach is direct and treated in a realistically mature way.  

It is a movie about knowing what you want and pursuing it yet at the same time, it's also about knowing your limitations or what I call your 'non negotiables' well enough that you can wake up in the mornings ... yes, alone but you still have your self respect, intact. 

Friday, April 25, 2014

PRISONERS

Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal,
Terrence Howard, Viola Davis, Maria Bello, 
Melissa Leo, Paul Dano

"A Hidden Truth. A Desperate Search"


This intense drama focuses on every parent's worst nightmare. It is Thanksgiving, the Dovers are spending it with their good friends/neighbors, the Birch family. Soon enough, both of their youngest daughters have gone missing after they went off to get a whistle from the Dover residence.  

Highly dramatic moments ensue as a frantic search is launched for the missing girls by the local police headed by a dedicated and methodical detective named Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal). An unlikely suspect named Alex Jones (played by the ever creepy Paul Dano) is held for questioning as he was the driver of a parked RV near where the two girls had played earlier.  I say unlikely because Alex although a grown man has the mind of a 10 year old boy.  So he is released after the mandatory 48 hours of detention without an arrest warrant has lapsed.

This triggers Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) to take matters into his own hands as he kidnaps Alex Jones and under extreme circumstances proceeds to question him. Chained and hidden in the decrepit bathroom of Dover's late father's house, Alex is constantly beaten, slapped and tortured by Keller as time is running out for the missing girls. Some of the torture scenes are simply implied (which is even worse, in my opinion) but you can tell from his screams the punishment were quite extremely vicious.

This line of 'questioning' runs parallel with the official investigation by Detective Loki as he hunts for other 'usual' suspects and the plot takes on an even darker tone.  Set in a seemingly quiet and small American town overcast with bleak weather, the disturbing story tackles vigilantism, vengeance, guilt and innocence as well as the very thin line between victim and perpetrator.

The movie runs at over two and half hours with a slow yet powerful approach. It gets tough as we watch the villain (Alex Jones) turn into a victim himself as the tables are turned and the hero (Keller Dover) transforms in a subtle yet quite effectively forceful manner into for lack of a better word, a monster.  All in the name of finding his beloved daughter but it is quite difficult to justify the punishment/torture he inflicts on the suspect/victim.

The whole narrative leads towards a gritty and open ended conclusion that will leave a lump in your throat. As well as give you a chance to take in oxygen since somewhere between all the high octane dramatic scenes you stop breathing from all the fervent and cringe-worthy action. This even as you contemplate if the end does justify the means and if the methods applied to attain those means are legitimate and humane.

A great cast led by Hugh Jackman, Melissa Leo and Jake Gyllenhaal heralds this thriller into one of the best crime stories ever filmed for the screen.  Just be sure you are in the right frame of mind to stomach it. 

Friday, April 4, 2014

PHILOMENA

Judi Dench, Steve Coogan

"These Two Unlikely Companions are on a 
Journey to Find her Long Lost Son"


This is a true story based on the 2009 investigative book "The Lost Child of Philomena Lee" by BBC correspondent Martin Sixsmith. He is portrayed by Steve Coogan in a meaty role that truly exposes his raw talent with some appropriate comedic flair. 

Philomena (Judi Dench) seeks his help in tracing her son whom she gave up for adoption in the 1960s. Actually, she was forced by the nuns who run a home for unwed mothers to sign a waiver. This document states she will not be privy to any information about his whereabouts once he is adopted.    Years later, hounded by her conscience and her guilt she perseveres in finding her son and her only hope is to channel it through Martin Sixsmith.  Perfect timing as he has been disgraced and is willing to take on a human interest story to salvage his reputation.

A journey that takes them from the Irish convent (where her toddler son grew up) and all the way to America where her son lived upon his adoption by an American couple.   It isn't an easy journey as they both face upheavals and challenges along the way.  Such as the refusal of the convent to share any information to hitting a blank wall once they reach America.

Interspersed with flashback throughout the film, we get to see Philomena as a young woman with child. Her difficult circumstances as her Catholic upbringing reigns supreme. A child out of wedlock was a big taboo back in the 1960s in predominantly Catholic Ireland.  As a Catholic, it was uncomfortable for me to watch the nuns strict adherence to the doctrines of the Church.  Although, I admit it is no secret that the Church has committed way too many deplorable acts that truly counteracts their main purpose.  It is a very touchy subject to broach and one I am not willing to comment on in this review.

The versatile performances from the two lead actors as unlikely 'partners' in a daunting quest are brilliant. Their repertoire is spot on even as their characters are polar opposites of each other. It was interesting to watch the very different reactions of their characters to the numerous hurdles they faced in their hunt for her son. Although their search leads to a sad ending, the fact that they finally find a fitting closure to her long anguishing tale is worth all the hardships they encounter. 

"Philomena" is a tale of anguish, guilt, redemption and forgiveness. It had a tendency to drag on but surely the poignant characterization of Philomena and Sixsmith by Steve Coogan and Dame Judi Dench is enough to elevate this sad yet uplifting story to a movie worth watching.
 

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