July in Film

July has come and gone and in that time I viewed sixteen films for the first time along with four re-watches. These films ranged from being just ok (70/100) to now being some of my favorite of all time (perfect 100/100’s). Here they are:

21 Jump Street: A surprising good comedy that was carried by the hilarious comedic timing of Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum. (73/100)

J. Edgar: Much better than it’s reputation led me to believe. Not one of the strongest bio-pics I’ve seen but it still managed to be interesting and engaging. Mainly because of Leonardo Dicaprio’s remarkable performance. (78/100)

Hotel Chevalier: A wonderful prequel to Wes Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited that not only manages to give you insight into the backstory of one of the film’s characters but also ends up being a solid stand-alone segment. (85/100)

The Darjeeling Limited: My third experience with Wes Anderson following Moonrise Kingdom and Hotel Chevalier was a bout of cinematic perfection. Everything about this film worked for me. From the trio of flawless lead performances by Adrien Brody, Owen Wilson, and Jason Schwartzman to the enchanting color palate, to the breathtaking cinematography. Near perfection. (98/100)

Short Cuts: This is a film that manages to transcend genres, cross half a dozen story-lines, and still manages to be somewhat coherent. Supplying a massive cast of brilliant performances and featuring the legendary direction of Roger Altman this is a brilliant piece of work. (100/100)

My Own Private Idaho: Gus Van Sant is a master of filmmaking, and it shows in this early work of his which features perfect performances by Keanu Reeves and the deceased (and extremely talented) River Phoenix. A flawless film. (100/100)

Paths of Glory: One of the few Kubrick’s I had yet to see. An utterly brilliant film containing a magnificent performance by Kirk Douglas and one of the finest scripts I’ve seen. (100/100)

The Dark Knight Rises: YES YES YES YES! It came and it delivered and it was awesome! (94/100)

Being John Malkovich: Watching a film written by Charlie Kaufman is like allowing him to cut open your skull and punch you in the brain for two hours. That is exactly what happened here with this colossally brilliant film that really highlights the acting talents of John Cusack, Cameron Diaz, Catherine Keener, and John Malkovich. (99/100)

My Week With Marilyn: This one falls into the territory of J. Edgar where it was an interesting film because of who it’s about but without it’s remarkable performances then it isn’t that good at all. (83/100)

Blue Valentine: Terrifying and raw, this film’s unique style of narrative and marvelous lead performances of Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams allow this film to shine. (97/100)

La Haine: I loved this film. The black and white cinematography, the brutal performance by Vincent Cassel, the use of music, and the ending. Oh, the ending. One of my favorites of all time. (97/100)

Earrings: Alex Withrow’s second short film accomplishes a lot in a relatively small amount of time. It provides you with a dialogue-less first act where you are introduced to a woman (played by Catherine Werner in a fearless performance) at a very bad point in her life. It follows that up with an extended conversation that allows you to piece together her backstory, and from there goes into a haunting sequence complemented by an excellent use of music. In all it is an excellent short film. (93/100)

Persona: Further evidence that Ingmar Bergman was the greatest filmmaker of all time. A true classic. (100/100)

La Sortie des usines Lumière: It kind of is incredible to see how far film has progressed. It started with this 46 second shot of people leaving and building and has become multi-million dollar projects that tell breathtaking stories.

Best Film I Watched in July:

Persona

Worst Film I Watched In July:

21 Jump Street (Which was still a good movie)

Rewatches:

Toy Story: The genesis of all modern animated films. Excellent, excellent, excellent.

My Own Private Idaho: Held up just as well the second time.

Midnight in Paris: Creative and brilliant with some of the best casting I’ve ever seen.

I’m Not There: One of the most unique films I’ve ever seen.

It was a good month.

A Look at the Work of Leonardo Dicaprio

Last night while on Letterboxd (which is a brilliant film website), I decided to make a list ranking the ten Leonardo Dicaprio performances that I’ve seen. I ranked them like this:

  1. His performance as Howard Hughes in The Aviator
  2. His performance as Frank Wheeler in Revolutionary Road
  3. His performance as Billy Costigan in The Departed
  4. His performance as J. Edgar Hoover in J. Edgar
  5. His performance as Frank Abgnale Jr. in Catch Me If You Can
  6. His performance as Danny Archer in Blood Diamond
  7. His performance as Teddy Daniels in Shutter Island
  8. His performance as Cobb in Inception
  9. His performance as Jack Dawson in Titanic
  10. His performance as Amsterdam Vallon in Gangs of New York

While I was making this list I realized how big a fan I am of Dicaprio’s work. He has managed to deliver consistently good performances and, for me at least, he hasn’t delivered a bad performance in ten years. He is, in my opinion, one of the finest actors of his generation if not the finest and I would personally rank him as one of my ten favorite actors of all time. Why is that? What is it that makes his performances so excellent? That is what I’m going to be looking at now. What I’m going to be doing is taking a look at the top three performances that I listed and explaining why I consider them to be clear examples of Dicaprio’s talent.

The Aviator

In my opinion this is, without a doubt, Dicaprio’s finest performance. A film like this with a running time of just over three hours needs a talented to lead actor to survive. The entire film is about it’s central character Howard Hughes, and without a convincing lead it would amount to nothing.This is where Dicaprio steps up. This a tour de force performance, mainly because of what Dicaprio is required to do. He has to illustrate eccentricity to the point of insanity in the life of a committed and successful man. It is this breakdown that highlights the actors true talent.

There is one scene in particular that really stands out to me as a clear example of this. It is the final scene so this explanation may contain a spoiler regarding to the ending. Just a warning. The scene that I am referring to shows Howard’s paranoia and insanity take hold in his later life. In the scene prior to this he had successfully flown his Hercules plane which was a gigantic vehicle and he is now at the landing area where a party is being held. He approaches his two main men and starts talking about the future of flight with Jet airplanes. As he is explaining, he keeps looking at these men in suits who seem to be looking at him. He eventually stops working and pauses for a minute as the camera cuts to this group of men who appear to be making their way towards him. In that moment we see a close up on Dicaprio’s face and we see his paranoid mind at work trying to figure out who these men are. He soon starts up talking again about getting someone over from Lockhead to help them out and his two men start conversing. As those two are talking his is staring at the men who are still slowly approaching and begins to mumble under his breath “The way of the future.The way of the future.” over and over again.

As he says those words it looks like he is experiencing pain. He starts coughing between saying it and he is quickly rushed out to a small bathroom and he’s kept in there. As he’s in there he starts looking frustrated and angry and in more pain from before until this flashback occurs to him as a child with his mother. Once that ends it goes back to his face for thirty seconds or so and in those thirty seconds he could only be described as broken. Both mentally and physically. It is a flawless piece of a brilliant performance.

Revolutionary Road

For the longest time I considered this to be the finest of Dicaprio’s career, and there is good reason for that. This is Dicaprio’s most emotionally raw performance. It is here more so than any of his other films that he is required to channel strong emotions whether they be severe anger, depression, etc. And that is where he really shines. The character he plays in Revolutionary Road, Frank Wheeler, is a conflicted and unfulfilled man. He used to have great dreams until the day he settled down to live a empty, normal suburban life. His emptiness results in a resentment of his wife and vice-versa. What this conflict and tension results in is some of the most terrifyingly real arguments that you will ever see on film.

The one argument that stands out the most for me is towards the end of the film where their hatred for one-another really shows and it all erupts in a violent argument. I wont give away any plot points  but the scene that I’m talking about comes right after Michael Shannon’s character, a mathematician named John Givings, really exposes them and the reasons why they chose not to follow their dream. What happens in this argument is mainly Frank living in denial and attempting to prove to April that what John said wasn’t true. In that moment April really comes out with everything and tells him that she is repulsed by him. Dicaprio’s response shows some of the best acting of his career. In short: he explodes. And it is magnificent.

The Departed

Billy Costigan is a fascinating character, to say the least. For the duration of the film he is dealing with the unbearable stress of being undercover and working with an incredibly dangerous criminal. What this results in is a mass amount of unresolved issues with inner conflict, identity, and overall fear. All of this agony is put out in their in my favorite scene of the film where Billy opens up to a psychiatrist, Madolyn. What ensues is one of the finest moments of a transcendent display by Dicaprio.

For some reason this video wouldn’t imbed properly. Sorry about that.

As you can see, I am massive fan of Dicaprio. What do you think about him? Love him? Hate him?

Earrings

About eight months ago I read a review by Roger Ebert about a film entitled Shame. He gave it a four star rating and praised every facet of it. His review intrigued me so I went and looked up some more reviews of the film. One of the first links I clicked on lead to a website called And So It Begins…” and that was my first introduction to the work of Alex Withrow. Since then I have always visited his website at least once a day, looking forward to his always brilliant content. A few months ago when I looked to see what was new on there, I saw a post about his new short film that he was working on: Earrings. Since then it has become one of my most anticipated films of the year. Today it was released and let me tell you. It did not disappoint.

Earrings takes place in the midst of a woman named Chlo’s downfall after a terrible catalyst occurs and leads her into multiple negative behaviors. Chlo is played to perfection by Catherine Warner, an actress that I hadn’t heard about prior to this film but I am sure that we’ll all be hearing about her in the future. Most of the film is free of dialogue and that results in her having to really express her character through subtle movements, looks, and mannerisms. That is where the excellence of her performance stems from. She manages to portray great emotion though subtle facial expressions. The first and really the only time her character has dialogue is during a brilliant extended conversation between her and a man who we soon find out is a friend of her ex-fiancee. In that five minute span we really learn all of the back story that had been hinted at prior to the explanation. Even in the explanation the dialogue doesn’t attempt to insult your intelligence but rather give you the parts to piece together the story yourself. In this scene it really showcases another aspect of the actresses talent in her delivery of the dialogue. It is a marvelous performance.

As I said before, most of the film does not have dialogue which results in a greater emphasis on things like cinematography and editing. All of the minor problems that I had with the film come from this area. There were a jump cuts that were a little off and didn’t exactly look natural. Other than that all of the editing was very well done. Then there was the cinematography. I absolutely loved the cinematography. There were two instances in particular where the camera would remain still on Chloe where she was in front of a window in an otherwise dark room and all you could see was her silhouette and I thought those scenes were extraordinarily well done. While the cinematography was good throughout the entire film there was one sequence that kind of stands above everything else for me. Following the centerpiece conversation that I talked about earlier there is a three minute sequence where  Withrow really hit his stride. It is reminiscent of Brandon’s downfall in Shame as we watch Chlo in her most desperate moments. All of the camerawork and coloring in that sequence were absolutely flawless and resulted in one of the most memorable pieces of the film.

That same sequence shows one of my favorite aspects of the film and that is the use of music. There are two songs used in this film and both of them fit perfectly into what is occurring on screen and really complements the scenes well. I have to say that I am a bit biased when it comes to the music as the film’s final few minutes contain a song by one of my favorite bands: M83. Regardless of that, the use of music was excellent.

I’ve been waiting for this film for the last few months and now that it’s here it was even better than I thought. At 32 minutes it flies in front of your eyes and leaves you thinking about the brilliance that you just observed. Alex is a clearly gifted filmmaker and I hope to see similarly great things from him in the future.

94/100

You can check out the film here: http://vimeo.com/46372044

My Week With Marilyn

Allow me to start off this review by apologizing for not updating any part of this site for almost three months at this point. Several weeks after I first formed this website I started to lose inspiration to write anything at all, and that drought lasted a considerable amount of time. Hopefully starting now I can begin to update this site more frequently. I am planning on about three to four posts a week, and possibly more if I have that much to write about. If there are any of you that are still sticking around then I greatly appreciate it and once again I apologize for not doing anything on here these last two and a half months. Now on to the review:

Marilyn Monroe was an interesting character. There is no debating that. She died at the age of 36 and during the years in which she was alive she was married and divorced three times and managed to star in 33 titles alongside some of the greatest performers of all time such as Jack Lemmon and Laurence Olivier. Her single work with the later of the two is the basis of this film: My Week With Marilyn.

Colin Clark (played by Eddie Redmayne) came from a wealthy family and wanted nothing more than to “run away to to the circus” and become a part of the film industry. At some point in his life Colin met Laurence Olivier who made some promise to get him a job working on one of his productions. The origin of their relationship isn’t explored at all so we’re left to piece it together ourselves. The film begins some time after that where Colin is ready to get a job. So naturally he shows up at Olivier Productions looking for a position. He’s turned down so he stays there all day, every day, for several days and ultimately ends up showing his worth when he takes over for the secretary for the day. One day while he is there he runs into Olivier and his wife Vivien Leigh who helps to get him a job on his next film “The Prince and The Showgirl” which is planning on starring Olivier and Marilyn Monroe. Olivier is played by the always excellent Kenneth Branagh and he truly shines in his role. Not only does he actually look a bit like Olivier did at the time but he also manages to display his inner frustration perfectly. It is a subtle performance but a marvelous one none the less. Colin gets a position as the third assistant director and does all of the menial work that that position entails leading up to the arrival of Miss Monroe. It is once she arrives that things finally get interesting.

Michelle Williams is, in my mind, the most talented actress of her generation and she proves that here by delivering a perfect performance. She embodies Monroe to the point where I felt like I was actually watching Monroe rather than watching someone play her. It is an excellent performance that manages to encapsulate Monroe in exactly the same way that we remember her. She was intelligent, ditzy, and funny, but most of all she was scared. She was looking for someone to protect her from he world. For someone who loved the true Marilyn. Not the one that had been formed through the media. It was that search that led her to three different husbands by the time she was thirty. This film highlights her brief relationship with her husband Arthur Miller. It doesn’t take too long for him to get fed up with her and make his way back to New York for a break. It is during this time of abandonment that Marilyn discovers Colin.

Colin was just supposed to be an assistant whose only job was to do whatever Olivier instructed him to do, and yet somehow he formed a close, albeit brief, relationship with the starlet. He was her escape from the stress of the set and her insecurities, and he was her true source of support and encouragement during the filming. The immediate attachment to Colin is hinted at by Marilyn as she believes that he is one of the few people who will love her, rather than the Marilyn that the public has come to know. This leads to an interesting aspect of the film that explores identity and how it is effected by celebrity.

One of my favorite scenes holds an example of this. Colin takes Marilyn to the Windsor Castle and walks her around it, and on their way out they run into a frenzied crowd. The crowd is shouting and clapping at the sight of Marilyn and she turns to Colin and whispers “Shall I be her?”. In that moment you realize that Marilyn is an entirely separate from her actual personality. This aspect of the story adds another layer to the character of Marilyn.

Naturally Colin fell in love with Marilyn during their time together and they spent a great deal of time together. Some good and some bad. This all lead up to Marilyn having much greater success on the film and with Olivier until the project was finished. From the beginning you know that Colin and Marilyn aren’t going to end up together, and that poses a type of problem for the third act. How are they going to make something interesting happen when you know the inevitable.

Well somehow they did it and the final product ended up being a solid film with an interesting story that is brought to life by brilliant performances. Not bad at all.

82/100