Movie Review ~ Trance

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The Facts:

Synopsis: An art auctioneer who has become mixed up with a group of criminals partners with a hypnotherapist in order to recover a lost painting.

Stars: James McAvoy, Vincent Cassel, Rosario Dawson

Director: Danny Boyle

Rated: R

Running Length: 101 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: There’s something so pleasing about watching a movie and even before the credits roll being able to tell who directed it. UK director Boyle won an Oscar for directing 2008’s Best Picture winner Slumdog Millionaire (hated the movie, loved Boyle’s work) but with his latest film Trance the director has gone back to his stylized new wave Hitchcock roots that came to light in 1994’s brilliantly twisted thriller Shallow Grave.

What Trance can’t do, however, it out-do that Boyle mini-masterpiece and that’s because that for all the style that Boyle puts on the proceedings, it can’t hide the fact that the story is a barely-there hodge podge of any number of quadruple cross heist thrillers. Despite an intriguing opening and a rather nicely conceived first half, it’s not long before the film gets itself so deep in the muck that that can’t untie the noose it’s created and winds up dangling.

When the movie began I sat back happily and let the Boyle camera angles, attention to detail, and breaking of the forth wall wash over me. This is the Boyle that I came to enjoy first in Shallow Grave then in Trainspotting, Sunshine, Millions, 28 Days Later…(I’m conveniently leaving out The Beach and A Life Less Ordinary…you should too) and the director seems energized by a film set in the heart of London and infused with a pulsating rhythm that he totally is in control of.

As the film progresses, however, the multiple layers of betrayal are not really peeled away but shuffled down the deck so you’re never quite able to follow along with where the twists are taking you. Is McAvoy’s character a harmless patsy that doesn’t know who he can trust…or is there more to him that the film is deliberately leaving out to spring at us in the final reel? And what of Dawson’s hypnotherapist who seems to be playing both sides of the fence between McAvoy and the oddity that is Cassell as a thief looking for a painting McAvoy was in charge of – is she a femme fatale that will be the last person standing when a hum-drum quartet of criminals turns on each other?

All of our questions are eventually answered in no uncertain terms but to say that the payoff is disappointing is like saying the Mona Lisa was a good first draft. The film winds up feeling so ordinary and rote, despite the best efforts of McAvoy, Cassel, Dawson, and Boyle but it’s the script that does no one any favors. I kept wanting the movie to get back on track and end with a bang – some may find great entertainment in the movie but like February’s Side Effects (another film with good actors working with second rate material) this one made me more frustrated as it kept striking out.

There is some good in the film and that’s mostly courtesy of Boyle and his crack team of creative personnel involved with the movie. The cinematography by Anthony Dod Mantle is impeccable, making excellent use of spotless office buildings and luxury apartments. I also enjoyed Rick Nelson’s score and an eclectic soundtrack that gave the film a flow like many Boyle films do – I have the scores to several Boyle films and his choice in music echoes his clean-cut editing/compositions.

For 100 minutes, Trance mostly gets the job done though I do wish the material had been up to snuff with the group of people charged with making it come to life. While it has the feel of an old-school Boyle offering, the also-ran script ultimately disappoints leaving the view not so much entranced as dazed.

Movie Review ~ The Place Beyond the Pines

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A motorcycle stunt rider turns to robbing banks as a way to provide for his lover and their newborn child, a decision that puts him on a collision course with an ambitious rookie cop navigating a department ruled by a corrupt detective.

Stars: Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Ray Liotta, Rose Byrne, Mahershala Ali, Dane DeHaan, Emory Cohen, Ben Mendelsohn

Director: Derek Cianfrance

Rated: R

Running Length: 141 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review:  The ads for The Place Beyond the Pines would have you believe that Gosling is the star of the show and I’d say that’s about 1/3 right.  In actuality, Gosling is just one part of a film that is essentially a three act saga that winds up feeling a little Scorcese/Coppola-lite.  It’s not that director Cianfrance’s second narrative feature doesn’t have its good moments, because when you factor in some hard hitting corruption mixed with cops and robbers mayhem it certainly does.  No, what keeps the movie from being fully satisfying is its hesitation to move toward completion in the face of a slightly saggy running time.

Reteaming with his Blue Valentine star (and I’ll say again that Gosling was unjustly overlooked for an Oscar nomination for his work in that tough love movie), Cianfrance decides to go big or go home as he follows the lives of two different men across fifteen years – both are men trying to do good from different angles so the movie really emerges from the Venn Diagram this creates.

Opening with Gosling as a tattooed cyclist faced with finding a way to support a child he didn’t know he had, the film gets off to a rough start with a soundtrack that drowns out our actors and asks us to strain to hear what Gosling and co-star Mendes are softly murmuring about.  Director Robert Altman made overlapping dialogue his calling card and I’m hoping that Cianfrance isn’t taking it a step further with a film where you may need the benefit of closed captioning to figure out what people are saying.  It really doesn’t matter all that much because the basic thrust of this slice of life is the standard “man turns to crime to support family” set-up.

Don’t get me wrong, Gosling plays this troubled guy like a pro and the further he ventures away from the right side of the law (with the help of a slightly askew but nevertheless fascinating performance from Mendelsohn) the more we fear for his future.  That future collides with rookie cop Cooper (fresh from his Oscar nominated work in Silver Linings Playbook and before May’s The Hangover Part III) and that’s when the film takes its first of many turns.  Cooper’s cop is a do-gooder, unfazed by the temptation of corruption and naïve to the danger this poses to his career and family.  With a new son of his own and a wife (Byrne, Bridesmaids) who just may wear the pants in the family, Cooper doesn’t let himself get pushed around by his comrades headed up by Liotta who hasn’t yet met a scumbag he can’t play like a harp.

It’s from Cooper’s story that the film takes another jump and I think I’ll leave where that leads to your discovery.  I will say that it’s in this third act where the  movie will either seal the deal or leave you cold – the more I ponder the film the more unhappy I grow with it because of this section that feels too on-the-nose, too pre-destined to really be believable.  One interesting thing about the final section is that it features Cohen (TV’s Smash) and DeHaan (Lawless, Chronicle), both of whom may remind you of A-Listers Channing Tatum and Leonardo DiCaprio, respectively.

Cianfrance and cinematographer Sean Bobbitt keep the movie going at breakneck speed but when it drags during its 141 minute run time the film struggles to right itself with a conclusion that satiates.  I’m not a person that needs all the questions answered by a film and actually prefer that not everything is explained but The Place Beyond the Pines feels like it never knew the answers to begin with.  Instead of creating characters and situations that feel new, Cianfrance and co-screenwriters Ben Coccio and Darius Marder look back at any number of crime archetypes found in film.

A trip to The Place Beyond the Pines may not be essential or necessary but the movie’s not a total wash so I don’t want to outright discourage a viewing of it should the interest be there on your part.  Despite the dialogue problems I mentioned above, the film has an unobtrusive score from Mike Patton that works with the sparse world Cianfrance has created.  Aside from a make-up design that ages all the women but seems to make the men younger, performances are sound and the movie does have several scenes with a decent amount of payoff.

Movie Review ~ Jurassic Park 3D

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The Facts:

Synopsis: During a preview tour, a theme park suffers a major power breakdown that allows its cloned dinosaur exhibits to run amok.

Stars: Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Richard Attenborough, Bob Peck, Martin Ferrero, Joseph Mazzello, Ariana Richards, Samuel L. Jackson, BD Wong, Wayne Knight

Director: Steven Spielberg

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 127 minutes

TMMM Score: (9.5/10)

Review:  It’s hard to believe that Jurassic Park is celebrating its 20th Anniversary this  year – I still remember like it was yesterday seeing one of the first showings at the Edina Theater and going back a few more times that weekend to see the dino action, bringing my friends along to see their reaction.  I saw the film a total of 10 times that summer and have revisited it dozens in the years since but I still was a little leery of the movie being re-released in 3D and IMAX to celebrate two decades of T-Rex and Raptor filled scares.  The film was so entertaining to begin with; did it really need 3D/IMAX to increase the entertainment value?

The answer is “no” but that doesn’t mean I didn’t greatly enjoy seeing the film digitally restored with booming sound and a carefully thought out 3D conversion overseen by its director.  You see, Jurassic Park is such an old-fashioned thrill ride of a film that it could be played backwards and still give you a big bang for your buck…though the term “popcorn film” was coined years before it’s one of the best ways to describe the experience.

Most people are probably already familiar with the plot involving a theme park in the South Pacific home to cloned dinosaurs.  What looks to be a huge advancement in science and consumer marketing turns deadly as the aggressive dinos break free during a tropical storm…much to the terror of a small group of men, women, and children that have stopped in for a visit.

What works about the film (wide-eyed wonder, excellent action sequences, state-of-the-art visuals) still works and what was once iffy (the film has a tendency to feel overwhelming in its scope) feels corrected by seeing the movie again on the big screen.  Though I still feel that the movie is less concerned with its calculated leaps in narrative than it is about dropping the jaws of their audience, there’s no denying that the movie has lost little even after countless viewings.

I was struck at how solid Neill was in his lead role as conflicted Paleontologist Dr Alan Grant.  Though the role could have gone to a real name star (Harrison Ford), Spielberg made the right choice by choosing the understated Neill to really ground the film.  While I’ve grown to like Dern (check her out in The Master and especially Smooth Talk), I do still cringe a bit at her overzealous line readings delivered with a lilt that sends a shiver up my spine.  Goldblum’s kooky theorist goes down easier than it did back in the day thanks to our exposure to similar actors like Johnny Depp who have probably would have played the role if it were made today.  Oscar winning director Attenborough (A Chorus Line) hits the right notes as the man behind the park, wisely toned down by screenwriter David Koepp from his evil genius characterization in Michal Crichton’s source novel.  Mazzalo and Richards performances have retained their mostly pleasant early 90’s feel though the efforts of both feel a bit light when surrounded by such impressive special effects.  Jackson, Wong, Peck, and Ferrero are nice supporting players while Knight’s performance feels the most stuck in the past.

The Oscar winning effects still look incredible and the various thrill sequences that had you on the edge of your seat will make you climb right over it as you witness a T-Rex attack that feels more up close and personal than ever.  The 3D is used sparingly but to great effect as the textures and depth of the park are increased, giving the film some needed strength in its slightly slower middle third.

Looking back it’s amazing to think that Spielberg directed Jurassic Park and his Oscar winning Schindler’s List in the same year…two enormously popular films for very different reasons.  It only speaks to his talents as a director that he could produce such tonally different movies yet keep the undeniable Spielberg touch intact.

Only in theaters for a few weeks, there’s every reason to get your tickets to Jurassic Park whether it’s your first or thirty-first time you’ve seen it.  The surprises are still there, the unexpected scares are present, and you may even find yourself getting that warm fuzzy feeling of retuning to something that reminds you of one great summer and one great film.

Mid-Day Mini ~ An Unmarried Woman

The Facts:

Synopsis: A wealthy woman from Manhattan’s Upper East Side struggles to deal with her new identity and her sexuality after her husband of 16 years leaves her for a younger woman.

Stars: Jill Clayburgh, Alan Bates, Michael Murphy, Kelly Bishop, Lisa Lucas

Director: Paul Mazursky

Rated: R

Running Length: 124 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review:The winner of the Best Actress Oscar of 1979 was Jane Fonda for Coming Home but while Fonda was a very worthy winner, I’m still of the mind that the late Clayburgh should have taken the trophy for her bravura performance in An Unmarried Woman.  The late 70’s was still working through a changing tide of independent women and the film came along at the perfect time to show the warts and all experience of a woman left by her husband for a younger model.  Clayburgh never lets her character wallow but soldiers on even when the odds are stacked against her.  What I like so much about director/screenwriter Mazursky’s approach to this is the way he presents Clayburgh’s rise from the ashes of a divorce not as a fairy tale of success against adversity but as someone taking control of her life and choices.  Not only Clayburgh is well cast but her friends and family are uniquely credible as well including Bates as an unlikely suitor.  Even if the film hasn’t aged particularly well, the overall effect of An Unmarried Woman still hits the mark three decades later.

Movie Review ~ The Silence (Das letzte Schweigen)

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The Facts:

Synopsis: 13-year-old Sinikka vanishes on a hot summer night. Her bicycle is found in the exact place where a girl was killed 23 years ago. The dramatic present forces those involved in the original case to face their past.

Stars: Ulrich Thomsen, Wotan Wilke Möhring, Sebastian Blomberg, Katrin Sass, Burghart Klaussner

Director: Baran bo Odar

Rated: NR

Running Length: 118 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review:  Good movies like The Silence come along so rarely that they can be passed over for more mainstream fare if audiences don’t have their ear to the ground on the lookout for solid entertainment.  This moody, atmospheric crime drama was released in its native Germany back in 2010 and finally arrived on our shores as the snow was melting and the spring thaw was on its way…very apropos weather for this chilly thriller..

The less you know about the overall plot for The Silence, the better lest you are spoiled to some of the more intricate twists the film has waiting for you.  The movie isn’t going to change the way you look at crime thrillers both foreign and domestic and in reality the crime is the least interesting thing about the movie. Adapting a popular novel director bo Odar wisely makes the movie about the people affected by a murder in a small town rather than the bloodletting that brings them all into our focus.

Nearly a quarter century after a young girl was murdered, another girl vanishes in the same spot under similar circumstances and the film follows nearly everyone who had a hand in the crime.  Though it doesn’t go to the dark places of Zodiac or Revanche (another skillful foreign thriller), the film nonetheless shows a sinister edge in senseless killing and how it can have repercussions for years after.

Well cast with a realistically believable troupe of actors, The Silence hums along nicely as police investigate leads, family members point fingers, and insight is given into who was responsible for the crime and why.  Though it’s no secret who “done it”, bo Odar manages to keep his house of cards building steadily as the minutes tick by.  The movie has some nice turns that I didn’t see coming and subtle conclusions that make sense within the context of the people, places, and ideas that it introduces.

The best crime thrillers steer clear of an overabundance of exposition and that’s exactly why The Silence works so well – it presents a very straight-forward narrative and gives its audience the kind of supporting players that keep you interested even if you’ve already figured out where it’s all  headed.  There were a few moments where I didn’t have a clue what would happen next…making the final moments all the more satisfying.

If you miss the theatrical run of The Silence, make sure to catch it at some point because it’s well worth a watch for the performances and craftsmanship of its production team.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Conjuring (Trailer #2)

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Synopsis: Paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren work to help a family terrorized by a dark presence in their farmhouse. Forced to confront a powerful entity, the Warrens find themselves caught in the most terrifying case of their lives.

Release Date:  July 19, 2013

Thoughts:  I don’t normally post a second trailer for a movie so close to the time that I posted the first trailer, but this new preview for July’s The Conjuring rustles up more than a few scary moments that I wanted to share.  Though we’ve had many horror films that were “based on a true story”, the premise of The Conjuring intrigues me as its inspired by the case files of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren who were famous for their involvement in more than a few high profile haunting inquiries (they were consulted on the famous Amityville Horror case).  I always get nervous when a film shows so many key moments and hope that some scares are put on reserve for paying audience members.  I like the cast assembled here and it’s old-school style should play a part in creating an atmosphere rich with potential.