The Grinch Review

Illumination Delivers Another Perfectly Acceptable if not Necessarily Exceptional Animated Diversion in this Re-Telling of the Dr. Suess Classic.

Bohemian Rhapsody Review

This Queen biopic Fails to Transcend the Genre the Way its Subjects Transcended the Music Scene, but at Least the Music is Good.

Overlord Review

Overlord Combines the Terror of War with the Terror of a Zombie Apocalypse and Accomplishes Exactly what it Means To.

The Nutcraker and the Four Realms Review

An All-Star Cast Attempts to Usher The Nutcracker Story to a New Generation Via Disney Blockbuster, but Unfortunately the Results Fall Short of the Ambition.

A Star is Born Review

Bradley Cooper Writes, Directs, Sings, and Stars in this Fourth Incarnation of this Story Alongside Lady Gaga to Rapturous Results.

THE GREY Review

There is an air of mystery around Joe Carnahan's "The Grey" as I expected a non-stop action thriller but what I received was a brooding, almost character study of a man who feels he is already at the end of his road when faced with a horrible accident and forced to lead a pack of men to survive the Alaskan wilderness. I was not just surprised by the restraint shown by director Carnahan in both his directing and his script but with the tone his film carried overall. I loved his 2010 "re-imagination" of the cheesy TV show "The A-Team" despite its poor box office return. It was a fun and ridiculous film, but it was clear the guy had a knack for action pieces as well as gritty drama as he also directed the underrated 2002 film "Narc". Carnahan merges his skills here and creates a classic tale of survival with an engaging and heartbreaking group of men that occasionally dips into something more. There are hints of psychological musings throughout the film and it almost makes the film rise above a standard action flick, but even without it this is not your typical, primitive B-movie. The pacing is off and Liam Neeson is both an actor's actor and a man, who since "Taken" has been considered a serious action star. He always added weight to mainstream films like "Batman Begins" and "The Phantom Menace" but that leading turn made his name worthy of the title and he has proven continuously that he deserves it. This is maybe the best display of that as Neeson gives a performance that is both touching in the most human of ways while also displaying his characters intuitive knowledge of his surroundings. He is the alpha male and that is the character we come to learn about. This is not a story about survival in the ways we would normally assume, but is instead a story of survival of the human soul.

John Ottway (Liam Neeson) is assigned to protect oil
workers from the wild wolves that pose a threat.
Neeson plays Ottway, a man who we learn quickly is getting over a part of his life that is now missing. As Neeson makes his way through the small town where he and his colleagues are waiting to fly out we understand he is not in the mood to fraternize with his co-workers or even speak openly to the bartender after downing a few shots. He is readying himself for what he truly desires and the task it will take to get there. From his opening voice over we can sense the deeper tone, the heavier weight this story will hold and that the struggle he and his fellow oil-riggers will soon face is not just to serve the purpose of fulfilling an audience's cravings for action flicks but also a close portrait of a man on the brink. A man who has no fear of death, just a slight bit of remorse. A sense of possible failure that he will let down the only person in life that he truly cared about. We watch as Ottway goes through the motions. He is on the job as the man who has to understand the wolves and shoot them when they get too close to the oil workers. When their plane goes down it is all at once surreal and yet a very real threat that is completely graphic in what it means to our main character. The moment in which the crash happens goes by in an instant and what we are left to look over is a crash site that is a landscape completely pure that is interrupted only by the staggering bits of plane that lay on fire.

The survivors of a horrific plane wreck try to survive the
harsh conditions of the Alaskan wilderness.
Ottway rounds up his fellow survivors and immediately assumes the role of leader. There are only a handful of men left that really matter and shortly after Neeson delivers one of the most touching moments in the film to a dying man in the wreckage we begin to see what he has been left to work with. There is Falnnery (Joe Anderson), the big mouth who doesn't know when to shut up. We have Hendrick (Dallas Roberts) a loyal and spiritual man that believes in Ottway, as well as Frank Grillo as Diaz, the rebel, and Dermont Mulroney as Talget, the peacekeeper. Each could have been sketched out a little more and lend more of their life and beliefs to the struggle that our protagonist is dealing with, but nonetheless each character is much less stock than they could have been. Mulroney and Roberts are to be comended for their small but integral contributions to the film as characters who at least attempt to get to know Ottway for the man he is rather than simply existing to create conflict. Although it is nice to see Neeson's Ottway put Diaz in his place when the time comes this also presents the one real discretion I had with the film. While I appreciate the film strived to be more that the average action flick I found it dragging at certain points where it could have used a little bit of excitement or better pacing. There is nothing wrong with a survival saga but when it is pitched as an action epic it should contain a little more brawls than "The Grey" actually does. Moments of quick intensity such as when the guys cliff dive or run into the trees to escape the always lurking wolves are too far between. It is by its own luck that the character and actor holding down the lead role make the film a consistently engaging character study. It could have surely done with a little more action to live up to its label, but this is still a solid January release that goes for more rather than just settling for what is expected.

Ottway approaches Diaz (Frank Grillo) in how to scare the
ever-present wolves away.
That is the element that stands out as the credits begin to roll. This is not a story that we know is going to end with some helicopter coming to the rescue, in fact we almost know from the very beginning there is no hope for these guys, but we still like to hold out hope. When it comes down to that final scene though we realize the message, or more the idea, of the movie is not that it is whether you live to fight the fight but more about accepting that you've lost when the time comes and finding peace in that. Throughout the film we are given a short verse that Ottway recalls hanging on the wall of his childhood home. A verse his father wrote that goes, "Once more into the fray. Into the last good fight I'll ever know. Live and die on this day. Live and die on this day." It of course carries much meaning for our hero and in those closing minutes we understand fully how much weight it actually does carry. Only Neeson could deliver such lines wth as much meaning and heart and make the audience feel something. It is a great performance and it takes "The Grey" to a level that I didn't expect it to reach. Though Carnahan will not get to make his "A-Team" sequel with Neeson it is lucky for him that Neeson agreed to this and allowed both of their careers a film that lends each credibility and commercial success. If you enjoy all out action films this may tend to be a little lighter than you need, but for those looking for a story that is both compelling and effective you will have to wander no further than into "The Grey".

THE GREY Review

There is an air of mystery around Joe Carnahan's "The Grey" as I expected a non-stop action thriller but what I received was a brooding, almost character study of a man who feels he is already at the end of his road when faced with a horrible accident and forced to lead a pack of men to survive the Alaskan wilderness. I was not just surprised by the restraint shown by director Carnahan in both his directing and his script but with the tone his film carried overall. I loved his 2010 "re-imagination" of the cheesy TV show "The A-Team" despite its poor box office return. It was a fun and ridiculous film, but it was clear the guy had a knack for action pieces as well as gritty drama as he also directed the underrated 2002 film "Narc". Carnahan merges his skills here and creates a classic tale of survival with an engaging and heartbreaking group of men that occasionally dips into something more. There are hints of psychological musings throughout the film and it almost makes the film rise above a standard action flick, but even without it this is not your typical, primitive B-movie. The pacing is off and Liam Neeson is both an actor's actor and a man, who since "Taken" has been considered a serious action star. He always added weight to mainstream films like "Batman Begins" and "The Phantom Menace" but that leading turn made his name worthy of the title and he has proven continuously that he deserves it. This is maybe the best display of that as Neeson gives a performance that is both touching in the most human of ways while also displaying his characters intuitive knowledge of his surroundings. He is the alpha male and that is the character we come to learn about. This is not a story about survival in the ways we would normally assume, but is instead a story of survival of the human soul.

RAMPART Review

It was with great anticipation that I looked forward to Oren Moverman's second film as I was truly affected by his first, 2009's "The Messenger". In that film he pulled out of Woody Harrelson a great performance that helped cement the actor as a serious talent that had been missing from his reputation for some time. He does so again with "Rampart" in which Harrelson plays the character at the heart of the film and portrays a cop that has been dirty since day one with such arrogance and blind self-deception it is as if the actor went out and not only did his homework, but he in fact became the man he was playing on screen. As police officer David Brown, Harrelson portrays a man lost, living day to day hoping to find some kind of relief to what his life has actually become. It is an electric performance that keeps the well made film above your average cop drama. Moverman is a pro at taking genre films and turning them on their heads and as he did with the military drama in "The Messenger" and as his writing displayed in "I'm Not There" with the music biopic he is again able to take the worn dirty cop drama and pull out honest insights rather than following a standard structure. "Rampart" is certainly not for everyone as it displays a constant darkness in what is essentially a character study, but it is nothing short of engaging and Harrelson delivers an award-worthy performance.

Officer Dave Brown (Woody Harrelson) is notorious
for making a scene.
The story is rather straightforward and simple as it mainly focuses on the man that Harrelson is portraying. As it does we are introduced to the many facets of Dave Brown's life as he lives with two different women who have each given birth to a daughter that belongs to Brown. One is young enough to still look up to her daddy while the other is in her rebellious teen years, sports the dark eyeliner and colored hair while painting art that is provocative and by provocative I mean it probably has no deeper meaning than the fact writing the "C" word on top of images is slightly appealing to the adolescent mind. In short, the teen resents her dirty cop dad. She believes she sees him for who he really is and it doesn't help he swings between her and her sisters mothers looking for physical satisfaction. The mothers, as portrayed by Cynthia Nixon and Anne Heche have little to do other than kick Dave out of the house once he's slipped so far into his own delusions of self-grandeur that it is hardly bearable. The odd thing about "Rampart" is that while it begins by setting up Dave with a scandal when he violently beats up a civilian who collides with his Police cruiser on the LA streets; it doesn't exactly follow this storyline through. Sure, it gets his juices flowing, his paranoia heightened and leads to the actions that we see play out over the course of the film. What it doesn't do though is follow the investigation into his crime and through to the court room as most police dramas might. No, "Rampart" is a beast with a burden all it's own thus making it all the more engaging as we watch our main character fall apart.

Dave tries to connect with one of his daughters...
What might lead a man to a meltdown is a pool of endless possibilities when it comes to being a dirty cop. The funny thing about Dave "date rape" Brown, as he is so lovingly called by his peers, is the fact it doesn't seem to be his conscious catching up with him. As a matter of fact, the more people he comes in contact with, the more relationships he forms, it only feels like he is digging himself a deeper hole. The film presents us with a lead character we could hardly call a protagonist. It is literally like watching a film entirely from the antagonists perspective and while this makes it impossible to root for our hero to swoop in, save the day, and deliver a perfectly packaged conclusion. Brown surrounds himself both at work and in his personal time with people who clearly resent him. He becomes entangled with lawyer Linda Fentress (Robin Wright) who he overstays his welcome with, who is enticed by the man on the TV but is quickly regretful of her choices. His father's old friend on the force Hartshorn (Ned Beatty) still seems to have a good amount of influence with the LAPD and while their friendship seems the only bright spot of hope in Dave's life for the longest even that friendship is tested and comes to the most brutal of  boiling points in the film. This on top of the fact that at work he openly despises those who work in rampart as he has a constant war of words going on with Joan Confrey (Sigourney Weaver) and Bill Blago (Steve Buscemi) as well as private investigator Kyle Timkins (Ice Cube) who in trying to make deals with he ultimately pisses off more. The idea that Dave almost relishes in the corruption of his authority and morality in general makes all these self-imposed conflicts just as psychologically interesting as they are terrifying and thrilling to watch him carry out on screen.

...while using any resource he can to try and dig himself
out of trouble.
"Rampart" is such a study of character we almost come away from the film with nothing more than the trip into his mind rather than a traditional story of lessons learned from choices made. The fact Moverman can go the length of a feature without having to depend on a standard structure is a little jolting but even more impressive. As his what feels like effortless direction combined with the dedication of Harrelson's performance make for an electric movie that chronicles not just the actions but the way its main character thinks and inevitably makes decisions that have brought his career to this point and even still as the controversy of Brown's latest incident seeps through his department and into city hall, this hardened, reckless officer finds himself digging an even deeper hole. There is a point in the film where Dave comes in contact with a homeless vet as played by Harrelson's "Messenger" co-star Ben Foster. Foster is a talented young actor who favors the darker, supportive roles and in his few scenes here we see the ugliest of Brown's traits emerge. There is a plague that hits us when we see Brown take advantage of Foster's character that helps define everything we have seen him do before culminate into a point where we have had enough of the man. The bad intentions, the heartlessness, and ultimately selfishness of his actions will come back to haunt him. We all know it and he probably does too, but it doesn't mean he is going to change. Harrelson makes that clear in every inch of what he portrays on screen. As terrifying as a man like this might be in real life, on screen, it is exhilarating and "Rampart" hits most of the wrong notes in the best kind of way.

RAMPART Review

It was with great anticipation that I looked forward to Oren Moverman's second film as I was truly affected by his first, 2009's "The Messenger". In that film he pulled out of Woody Harrelson a great performance that helped cement the actor as a serious talent that had been missing from his reputation for some time. He does so again with "Rampart" in which Harrelson plays the character at the heart of the film and portrays a cop that has been dirty since day one with such arrogance and blind self-deception it is as if the actor went out and not only did his homework, but he in fact became the man he was playing on screen. As police officer David Brown, Harrelson portrays a man lost, living day to day hoping to find some kind of relief to what his life has actually become. It is an electric performance that keeps the well made film above your average cop drama. Moverman is a pro at taking genre films and turning them on their heads and as he did with the military drama in "The Messenger" and as his writing displayed in "I'm Not There" with the music biopic he is again able to take the worn dirty cop drama and pull out honest insights rather than following a standard structure. "Rampart" is certainly not for everyone as it displays a constant darkness in what is essentially a character study, but it is nothing short of engaging and Harrelson delivers an award-worthy performance.

THE ARTIST Review

"The Artist" is not a perfect movie, it isn't even a perfect silent film, but it is completely what the movies are all about: entertainment. Many people who do not find the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences to be in touch with the average movie-going public will dismiss this as a film too artsy for them. They will believe it to be something that they could find no joy in, one of those slow moving dramas so rich in it's own history that no one but film lovers will "get it". This is, of course, not the case as anyone who likes to go to the movies will find something in "The Artist" to love. It is a charming film that is not swallowed up by what it is trying to be, but is instead an exercise in creating an honorable love letter to an era many have forgotten about in Hollywood history. I have only seen a handful or so of silent films and most of them were not of the style in which director Michel Hazanavicius has chosen to tell his story, but his film does bring the era we associate these kinds of films with to life. In the most amazing of ways we are transported back to the 20's the moment those title cards flash on the screen and the loving piano-heavy score begins to play. We watch as Hazanavicius piles on the tricks including good use of the old fashioned wipes and lens effects, but this is not so much about the lengths the makers went through to make this feel like an authentic experience but feels more relevant in the fact that this represents where we are as an artistic culture. Yearning to feel a part of that black and white era where everything felt simple and you could dance your problems away.

George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) escorts his co-star
(Missi Pyle) across the stage after a premiere.
As the curtain is pulled back we are immediately introduced to Jean Dujardin as Geroge Valentin, a silent film star who is relishing in the success of his latest film. In a chance meeting outside of the theater a lovely woman accidentally bumps into George and an intrigue is sparked. Little does George know this young woman is a hopeful actress by the name of Peppy Miller. The lives of these two become intertwined when Peppy is chosen as an extra on George's next film and even more chemistry between the two becomes evident. There is a wonderful moment early on when Peppy, played by director Hazanavicius's wife Berenice Bejo, finds herself alone in Valentin's dressing room. She approaches his jacket as it hangs on the rack and slips her arm through imagining it is his. There is something almost provocative about the moment while at the same time feeling a little farcical. It, in an instant, provides a moment so perfectly in tune with the ways and looks of silent films from that era that we are laughing at the trick but in awe of the response it elicits. The film spans five years as soon, talkies are introduced and George is relegated to anonymity making way for Peppy to rise as the new star of the production company where George once reigned. Faces you recognize pop up throughout with John Goodman as the studio head, James Cromwell as Geroge's loyal butler Clifton, and Missi Pyle as a co-star of George's in his heyday. We know where the story is heading the moment George and Peppy run into one another at the beginning of the movie, but this film isn't really about the story it is telling rather it is about the feeling it leaves us with.

Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) shows off her good side to a
fellow actor (Malcolm McDowell).
Both Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo do great work in their roles, but it should be especially noted how good Dujardin does at transporting himself into the caricature of a silent film actor and how every time the camera stops rolling he becomes someone more real but just as authentic in the environment that surrounds him. He not only captures the look in which actors of ole styled themselves but everything from the way his body moved to the facial expressions that translated his every emotion were an homage to the actors who honed these skills for years in the 1920's. I can admit that I didn't think this kind of thing was possible, that a few critics might enjoy it because of their pool of knowledge that they draw from as far as cinema goes would allow them a few inside chuckles, but I didn't believe it would reach a mass audience or even turn into something so many can find joy in. The thing that does worry me is the fact as honorable and heartfelt as this film is, it might insight folks to go back and take a look at silent films that were made years ago because they found this enjoyable. This is a tribute to those movies, a statement about society and staple of cinema that will be remembered years from now, but it is not a film that would fit right in between "City Lights" or "The General". In fact, had this come out around that time "The Artist" might have been easily looked over. What "The Artist" is to us is a kind of symbol for how present society informs the methods of yesteryear. It is a heartfelt idea, and it works within the context of 2012. As we imagined the world to be, how we hope all of our romantic thoughts about that time period might really be true.

George and Peppy find themselves sharing the silver screen
together...finally.
With that, "The Artist" will still win best picture at next months Academy Awards and there is no reason it shouldn't. As I said before, it is the one film that shows a true representation of where we have been, where we are and how far we've come. It is a piece of monochromatic art that is asking its audience to come with it on a journey and most will enjoy the ride for its well intentions and its pure engagement that draws you into the world. I enjoyed the movie, I thought it was a great idea that draws on things everyone knows and can relate to. It is stunning to see it all re-created so well and with such love. Just keep in mind that as you watch, the story is not the point, but instead it really is the methods of how this melodramatic and very standard tale is being delivered. It is all about the delivery, and putting yourself in a crowd as if you were watching alongside audience members draped in 20's garb and enjoying for the first time the spectacle of two charismatic, charming people dancing their hearts out on stage. If you still aren't convinced you won't be bored watching a silent film in today's world of big budget special effects laden blockbusters there is also a cute little dog that might help you get past that fact and help you find enjoyable what so many others have already called their movie of the year. "The Artist" is not my movie of the year, but it is one that is well worth investing your time and heart in.

THE ARTIST Review

"The Artist" is not a perfect movie, it isn't even a perfect silent film, but it is completely what the movies are all about: entertainment. Many people who do not find the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences to be in touch with the average movie-going public will dismiss this as a film too artsy for them. They will believe it to be something that they could find no joy in, one of those slow moving dramas so rich in it's own history that no one but film lovers will "get it". This is, of course, not the case as anyone who likes to go to the movies will find something in "The Artist" to love. It is a charming film that is not swallowed up by what it is trying to be, but is instead an exercise in creating an honorable love letter to an era many have forgotten about in Hollywood history. I have only seen a handful or so of silent films and most of them were not of the style in which director Michel Hazanavicius has chosen to tell his story, but his film does bring the era we associate these kinds of films with to life. In the most amazing of ways we are transported back to the 20's the moment those title cards flash on the screen and the loving piano-heavy score begins to play. We watch as Hazanavicius piles on the tricks including good use of the old fashioned wipes and lens effects, but this is not so much about the lengths the makers went through to make this feel like an authentic experience but feels more relevant in the fact that this represents where we are as an artistic culture. Yearning to feel a part of that black and white era where everything felt simple and you could dance your problems away.

A SEPARATION Review

"A Separation" is an Iranian film that has already won best foreign language film at the Golden Globes and is the film you will likely see take that same prize at the Oscars next month. It was out of pure interest in the hype surrounding the film that I had to see what all the fuss was about. I would like to be more acquainted with the landscape of cinema in Iran to know how this particular film compares to others that are released and are more accessible to the people of Iran. We are unable to know this unless we seek these films out though and since I usually stick with American cinema I can only compare what I have seen here to what I have become accustomed to. In this regard "A Separation" is unlike many films I have seen this year. Every now and then a small art house drama will contain the emotion and dynamics of such a film as "A Separation", but never have I felt more involved in a film than I was here. It was literally as if I wanted to step in between our two sets of characters and defend the reasons for the way each of them had acted. There is a real humanity to the script and writer/director Asghar Farhadi should be credited for such fluent and snappy dialogue that feels nothing short of authentic. It was strange, in a way, to see this world that in livelihood might feel as foreign as it actually is, but in the dispute, in the conflict the plot presents us with it could not have been more universal. This doesn't only make it relatable for anyone who watches it, but it speaks volumes about who we are as a race. We seemingly have the same instincts no matter race, religion, or nationality. To make the best lives for ourselves no matter the cost, and we see this from several perspectives in "A Separation". None of which are wrong.

Nader (Peyman Moadi) helps his Alzheimer-affected
father back to their house.
A lot of that first paragraph might not have made sense if you are unfamiliar with the story "A Separation" is telling, but you might have at least gathered it is a very basic human story. From the opening scene where husband and wife Nader (Peyman Moadi) and Simin (Leila Hatami) stare right into the camera (which is positioned as the judge) and discuss their reasons for getting a divorce we see the spark of tone that will continue through the rest of the film, that basic thought of putting yourself in anothers shoes is taken to a whole other level. Simin wants to leave Iran and take their daughter Termeh with her because she believes she can give her a better upbringing elsewhere but Nader refuses to go with her as he feels responsibility to stay and take care of his Alzheimer-suffering father. The judge denies their request for a divorce and so Simin returns to live with her parents leaving Nader to have to find assistance to help with his father in his wife's absence. Termeh stays with her father, hoping this decision might not allow her mother the ability to stray too far from them. From the moment we meet Razieh (Sareh Bayat), the woman applying for the maid position, there is something slightly curious about her. As a young woman desperate for work she seems unable to compromise with her employers requests. The look in her eyes is one of tepid fear, constantly unsure if she is doing the right thing, always second guessing herself. When Nader and Termeh return home early one day to find Nader's father's arm tied to his bed post, nearly dead, and the house empty things begin to get more complicated rather than settling down as Nader no doubt hoped they would.

Razieh (Sareh Bayat) and her young daughter make their
way to Nader's to care for his father.
Yes, Razieh returns to Nader's house only to be confronted about why she would do such a thing or even leave her job, her responsibility, in the middle of the day. As expected Razieh is reclusive about giving reasons or excuses even. She simply defends it was something she had to do and did not anticipate being gone so long. There is so much more complexity to the script it is impossible to describe every aspect to give you a full picture, but the importance of what is going on certainly goes from a trivial argument to something much more serious. The interesting thing about the film though is that we never look at either side as good or bad. There are no distinct lines that are ever drawn. We are naturally pulled to side with Nader in the beginning as what Razieh did seems inexcusable, and it is, but in the events unfolding after Nader kicks her out of his house we, as an audience, question our allegiance every other scene. Farhadi layers the story so brilliantly that we hardly have time to anticipate the next twist as we are adjusting our minds to the last revelation and what that means to the situation in a broad picture. It is virtually impossible to not put every ounce of focus into what is going on in the film. It demands our attention. While the structure of the the film follows a kind of domestic drama it is more about the actual humans in the story rather than the plot of the film. While the story is of course the most important thing and is the basis for any innovative film, the fact that these characters are so true and familiar is what strikes you about this piece of work. These people are simply trying to fight for truth, for what they believe in and what interestingly holds them back, creates more sorrow even, is the regulations of the system in which they exist.

Hodjat (Shahab Hosseini) is angered at Nader after he
denies what Razieh accuses him of.
The performances are clearly a huge factor in the authenticity of these characters we watch go through whats essentially a very direct story. It is the human element they bring to their roles that makes this not just an open and shut case, but one where we assess the situation from Nader's perspective as well as from Razieh's and her husband Hodjat (Shahab Hosseini ). It is almost deceptive in its simplistic approach to how we think the story might play out. We don't imagine things spiraling out of control to the point we are forced to assess our own lives and choices. Again, it is almost striking at times how familiar this all feels while clearly feeling a distance in the culture. Going in to this I had no expectations of what the story would deliver; all I knew is that it had received great reviews and had placed on many critics top 10 lists of the year. I wondered what might be so appealing about a foreign film that so many people in a different country would find it engaging. The answer is simple in that it addresses universal issues of divorce and more delicately how a marriage might disolve. It takes on so much more though and delivers each passionate argument and testimony with real humanity in a world filled with inhumanity. It is the most engaging of films and deserves to be seen no matter if you find reading subtitles a burden or not.

A SEPARATION Review

"A Separation" is an Iranian film that has already won best foreign language film at the Golden Globes and is the film you will likely see take that same prize at the Oscars next month. It was out of pure interest in the hype surrounding the film that I had to see what all the fuss was about. I would like to be more acquainted with the landscape of cinema in Iran to know how this particular film compares to others that are released and are more accessible to the people of Iran. We are unable to know this unless we seek these films out though and since I usually stick with American cinema I can only compare what I have seen here to what I have become accustomed to. In this regard "A Separation" is unlike many films I have seen this year. Every now and then a small art house drama will contain the emotion and dynamics of such a film as "A Separation", but never have I felt more involved in a film than I was here. It was literally as if I wanted to step in between our two sets of characters and defend the reasons for the way each of them had acted. There is a real humanity to the script and writer/director Asghar Farhadi should be credited for such fluent and snappy dialogue that feels nothing short of authentic. It was strange, in a way, to see this world that in livelihood might feel as foreign as it actually is, but in the dispute, in the conflict the plot presents us with it could not have been more universal. This doesn't only make it relatable for anyone who watches it, but it speaks volumes about who we are as a race. We seemingly have the same instincts no matter race, religion, or nationality. To make the best lives for ourselves no matter the cost, and we see this from several perspectives in "A Separation". None of which are wrong.

EXTREMELY LOUD & INCREDIBLY CLOSE Review

Sometimes an entire movie can be redeemed through one solitary scene. One might be feeling a certain way about a film and then, in a brief window of three or four minutes all of that is washed away due to the impact of what we are experiencing. There is a scene like this in "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close" where our young protagonist Oskar (Thomas Horn) is speaking with a man he hardly knows that may or may not hold the secret he has been searching for. Jeffrey Wright, in a small supporting role, is forced out of his comfort zone at his corporate America desk job and into an emotional state where he seems to face everything life has thrown at him rather than ignoring it as he has done before. I can't give much more about the scene away without spoiling details of the ending, but in that moment this went from being a film I wasn't sure I completely understood to one of great emotional impact. I wondered why we might need to draw back focus to the events of September 11th again, so soon after all of the anniversary specials a few months ago, but this is not a film about that horrible day (or as Oskar calls it "the worst day"). No, this is a movie about the grieving process and how the best way to handle a loss is probably not to push it under the rug and to try and convince yourself it never existed. It is a film that at times, tries a little too much and feels uneven, but in the end I was uplifted by the experience. This film has seemed to be one people either love or could care less about. I can see how such a divisive line has been drawn, but I have to go with those who took something from it. I feel I did and I can tell what a labor of love this seemed to be for director Stephen Daldry.

Oskar (Thomas Horn) clings to his father (Tom Hanks).
It is displayed in the early scenes of the film that Oskar has a close relationship with his father. As played by Tom Hanks, Thomas Schell is the kind of man we all associate Mr. Hanks with. He is a man who loves his family more than anything and he inherently does what is best for his son. It is obvious from his efforts that Oskar is wired a little differently than other 9-year old's on the block. At one point he informs us that he was tested for Asperger's but that they were inconclusive. Still, we can tell from his socially awkward dialogue, the way he speaks to people and his need for order, for sense and his attention to detail that Oskar requires a little more forgiveness than if we were watching a younger child on a scavenger hunt. Oskar loves his father, and his father indulges and challenges him to not just point out Oskar's flaws, but to assist him in helping them become irrelevant. Mr. Schell devises little "reconnaissance expeditions" that force Oskar out into a world he would usually fear. The scenes Hanks shares with young Horn do great to epitomize their relationship and why Oskar needs so badly to find closure after his death. Sandra Bullock plays the mother who is distanced after her husbands death. Oskar doesn't understand her grieving process. He persecutes her and throws uncontrollable fits that blame her for what happened and what didn't. In what was almost a stock character role Bullock is able to turn it around and in her limited time on screen deliver a truly heartfelt performance that moved me every bit the way Hanks did with his brief moments of joy and adventure.

Oskar and the mysterious man (Max von Sydow) renting a
room from his Grandmother go searching for the secrets
of the key. 
The film really gets rolling when, a year after the worst day, Oskar finds a key when searching through his fathers closet. Naturally, Oskar believes this to be a clue, a holder of some kind of secret that his father planned for him figure out after he was gone. This is the starting point for our quest with Oskar to find out what the key opens and who it belongs to. This leads him to come in contact with more people than his father could have ever imagined. Not being from New York it was easy for me to accept the long list of welcoming people that Oskar comes into contact with. It is in his search we meet Viola Davis who shines in brief moments. His mission also allows him to come in contact with the older gentlemen renting a room from his Grandmother who lives across the street. Simply known as the renter, Max von Sydow doesn't speak a word of dialogue the entire time he is on screen but is able to deliver the most moving performance in the film. Though it never actually says it we know why this man has such an interest in young Oskar, why he wants to assist him on his search and come to know him better. Sydow is remarkable in the role and makes a good contrast for Horn's character who can at times become somewhat of an annoyance.

Oskar always carries his tambourine with him to
help calm his nerves.
Oskar can be rude, moody, and precocious in his ways that leave little room for the concern of others. It is apparent he doesn't know better and is only acting in a way that seems perfectly reasonable to him. These differences in how Oskar's mind works and what is acceptable in society make the film engaging as we see it through Oskar's perspective. To see a world through the eyes of a young child, one with a form of asperger's no matter the severity, is a hard task to accomplish but the film does it incredibly well. Where at the beginning of writing this I couldn't put my finger on what is causing the divide in reaction now seems somewhat obvious. The facts of what Oskar needs to understand don't come as easily to him as they do people without this type of diagnosis as demonstrated by the argument he has with his mother in their kitchen. The film has an involving plot and an engaging lead character that some members of the audience will simply be put off by. People are attracted by the story and the need to understand more deeply the rippling effect of what that terrorist attack did to people like you and I. What they don't anticipate going in though is being told this story and how what happened affected a little boy who thinks much differently than they. Who reacts in what is likely the most opposite of ways. It is a tragic tale, and as I have written through it I feel I understand the film a little better now. It still might try and pull at the heart strings one too many times in a cloying manner, but it is no less an engaging film that deserves to be understood for what it is, not what you'd hoped it to be.

EXTREMELY LOUD & INCREDIBLY CLOSE Review

Sometimes an entire movie can be redeemed through one solitary scene. One might be feeling a certain way about a film and then, in a brief window of three or four minutes all of that is washed away due to the impact of what we are experiencing. There is a scene like this in "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close" where our young protagonist Oskar (Thomas Horn) is speaking with a man he hardly knows that may or may not hold the secret he has been searching for. Jeffrey Wright, in a small supporting role, is forced out of his comfort zone at his corporate America desk job and into an emotional state where he seems to face everything life has thrown at him rather than ignoring it as he has done before. I can't give much more about the scene away without spoiling details of the ending, but in that moment this went from being a film I wasn't sure I completely understood to one of great emotional impact. I wondered why we might need to draw back focus to the events of September 11th again, so soon after all of the anniversary specials a few months ago, but this is not a film about that horrible day (or as Oskar calls it "the worst day"). No, this is a movie about the grieving process and how the best way to handle a loss is probably not to push it under the rug and to try and convince yourself it never existed. It is a film that at times, tries a little too much and feels uneven, but in the end I was uplifted by the experience. This film has seemed to be one people either love or could care less about. I can see how such a divisive line has been drawn, but I have to go with those who took something from it. I feel I did and I can tell what a labor of love this seemed to be for director Stephen Daldry.

HAYWIRE Review

There is a great scene in "Haywire" where Mallory (Gina Carano) is walking down a street and she knows she is being followed. Director Steven Soderbergh doesn't falter from her every step, studying her face. He follows her not letting the camera miss a beat. The tension this builds as we get a quick cut across the street to see a man clearly walking in stride with our heroine. We see a car pull slowly up beside her, pass her, still slowing. It is the perfect encapsulation of how an audience should be made to feel when in a high stakes game of spy vs. spy. As I said in my September review of Soderbergh's "Contagion" I have not seen as many of his smaller films such as "Che" and I never was able to finish "Solaris", but whether he be making heist capers like the Ocean's series, political farces like "The Informant" or the disaster move as some called "Contagion" they are at least all credible films in their respected genres. Soderbergh has found his niche in being versatile and he expands that taste for variety into the action genre in "Haywire". While the story plays as a mash up of movies we have all seen before it is the artistic liberties Soderbergh takes with the material that make it more entertaining than this would have been in lesser hands. There is a zip, bang, bam tone to the film while at times it feels almost subtle in the ways with which it approaches the genre's more cliched aspects. At an hour and a half it zooms by, not allowing the audience to stop and wonder what is going on despite the tangled web of a plot. This is good, mind-numbing fun; the kind of action pic that makes "Contraband" look like the generic film it is.

Malory (Gina Carano) takes out Aaron (Channing Tatum)
after he tries to hard to make her come with him...
When we first come across Mallory we are at an upstate New York cafe. It is clear she is hiding, but from what we don't know. Soon, Aaron (Channing Tatum) arrives and is set to bring her in, but of course Mallory knows better and does not plan on following orders. This disagreement leads to the explosive first fight scene in the film where Mallory takes on Aaron and coolly lays him out escaping the cafe with an innocent bystander who tried to help her out. After snagging Jacob (Michael Angarano) from the cafe and taking him and his car we begin to hear the story unfold as Mallory relays to Jacob how she has come to be in her current predicament. It is evident from the opening sequence Mallory is a highly trained operative of some kind. We learn she works for a type of government agency with a private contractor and after having gone on a recent mission to Berlin. She freed a Chinese journalist who was being held hostage and returned home but was immediately summoned for another job that led to her being double crossed by someone close to her. There is a buffet of strong supporting players here including Ewan McGregor as Kenneth, Mallory's boss and ex-boyfriend. Michael Douglas and Antonio Banderas show up in a few scenes as a government officer high up on the chain of command and the mysterious Ramon. Bill Paxton pops up in a few scenes as Mallory's dad and Michael Fassbender as the agent hired to dispose of her makes his bid for the next Bond actor. While we watch as Mallory goes toe to toe with every man she encounters the story boils down to a why did they do it that is easily enough solved and not at all surprising. It sure as hell is a fun ride getting there though.

British secret agent Paul (Michael Fassbender) could
learn a few things from Mallory.
Despite so many big names, the real star here is Carano and though this role doesn't require a whole lot of range from the newly minted actress she is the perfect fit for a woman an audience will believe can actually take on anyone thrown her direction and win. That is what the movie is all about after all isn't it? I mean, to watch Mallory chase down a loose end through the streets of Berlin just to run up a wall and send him swiftly under a garage-like door, or my favorite brawl of the film, the bedroom dance of a duel that her and Fassbender display is pure kineticism. The last great action flick I saw was "Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol" but where that was a high octane, flashy piece of big budget entertainment this is a low key and brutal revenge actioner. Carano is a former mixed-martial arts fighter and while as her popularity grows she will surely be offered more roles that require more than just kicking-butt I'm not going to fret over whether or not her acting abilities will rise with that level of requirement. She serves the purpose of her character here. Mallory is a reclusive woman who likes to do as she is assigned and be done with no connections to anything or anyone left behind. Soderbergh knew what he was doing in building a film around Carano and in completing this he has conquered another genre in ways that deny to succumb to the standards. In the end you may not be as riveted by the plot as you might have come to expect from an indie filmmaker like Soderbergh but you will certainly feel revved up by the fast, strong and intelligent character that anchors this film.

Coblenz (Michael Douglas) gives Mallory a few leads as to
where to fins the man who betrayed her.
There have been plenty of films over the past few years that have centered around a strong female lead in the middle of an action film. Whether it be the Resident Evil and Underworld films, Angelina Jolie in "Wanted" and "Salt" or one of my personal favorites from last year, "Hanna". The trend won't stop this year either with "The Hunger Games" and "Brave" coming out, but these kinds of movies where the makers think they are turning the genre on its head by simply changing the sex of the character no longer makes this something different. We, as an audience, require more innovation than this and despite following the rules of the genre Soderbergh is able to, at the same time, make this double as a kind of sly thriller. He saturates his characters with actors who with their credibility can play up the stock roles they have been assigned and turn this into a piece of action pulp. I was really looking forward to "Haywire" as it promised to be exactly what the genre was lacking and that was genuine excitement. Not only was this a literal edge of your seat kind of movie, but it makes a general, wide audience appreciate the quirks of smaller films while delivering everything they want from a good action movie. I don't know if there is anything Soderbergh can't do and it not turn out to be at least a charming effort. I guess we'll find out this summer when he extends his ever-searching eye to the genre of broad comedy with "Magic Mike".

HAYWIRE Review

There is a great scene in "Haywire" where Mallory (Gina Carano) is walking down a street and she knows she is being followed. Director Steven Soderbergh doesn't falter from her every step, studying her face. He follows her not letting the camera miss a beat. The tension this builds as we get a quick cut across the street to see a man clearly walking in stride with our heroine. We see a car pull slowly up beside her, pass her, still slowing. It is the perfect encapsulation of how an audience should be made to feel when in a high stakes game of spy vs. spy. As I said in my September review of Soderbergh's "Contagion" I have not seen as many of his smaller films such as "Che" and I never was able to finish "Solaris", but whether he be making heist capers like the Ocean's series, political farces like "The Informant" or the disaster move as some called "Contagion" they are at least all credible films in their respected genres. Soderbergh has found his niche in being versatile and he expands that taste for variety into the action genre in "Haywire". While the story plays as a mash up of movies we have all seen before it is the artistic liberties Soderbergh takes with the material that make it more entertaining than this would have been in lesser hands. There is a zip, bang, bam tone to the film while at times it feels almost subtle in the ways with which it approaches the genre's more cliched aspects. At an hour and a half it zooms by, not allowing the audience to stop and wonder what is going on despite the tangled web of a plot. This is good, mind-numbing fun; the kind of action pic that makes "Contraband" look like the generic film it is.

THE IRON LADY Review

Walking into "The Iron Lady" I did not expect first and foremost to be the only audience member under the age of 50. I have always lived by the idea that despite it being a bad idea to receive your history lessons from the movies, it is always more entertaining to see actors play up how they thought historical figures might have really been. To see directors dream up a world that once existed as an authentic piece of cinema. Meryl Streep is no stranger to these waters as before she has channeled popular figures such as Julia Child or Miranda Priestley who was supposedly based on Anna Wintour. At this point, and with it being so consistent over the past few years, it felt Mrs. Streep might be pushing her luck in sticking within the safe realm of portraying real people. In this case, it is true she is a perfect fit for the first and only female prime minister of the United Kingdom and though I doubt anyone could have played this role better, I was still concerned. In the early stills released of the film Streep looked to be playing more of a gimmick than that of inhabiting the woman who changed the landscape of politics forever by simply being a woman. Turns out, this is of course another great performance from Streep (though I still think Viola Davis should have taken the Golden Globe and should still take the Oscar) that makes a movie with unsure footing rise above what could have been a representation of life that the actual Thatcher would have found unsatisfactory. Walking into "The Iron Lady" I did not expect a film that would favor flashbacks over a straight laced bio-pic, but this does offer some variation to the story and allows Streep the chance to make this as personal as possible. Giving the weight of the films story to her star was likely the best move director Phyllida Lloyd could made.

A young Margaret (Alexandra Roach) and Dennis (Harry
Lloyd) decide to get married after Margaret loses her
first election.
That idea of getting an intimate portrait of a great historical figure, getting to know them as a person rather than a persona is the intrigue of films that are much like biographies. I come from a family who, on my mothers side, is very British. I was raised to enjoy tea and real Cadbury chocolate. I have always had an intrigue in the history and the monarchy of the British people but little did I know the lady on the cover of a book that has sat on my Nanny's shelf since before I can remember would be the subject of a movie I'm now writing about. I had no idea who she was, or what she had done. While "The Iron Lady" seeks to spell out Thatcher's accomplishments it also aspires to take a look at the motivation and drive a woman needed to accomplish such things and what all she sacrificed to reach those goals. We begin in a place most unexpected, looking at an elderly Thatcher as she wonders through the streets of England after purchasing milk. In the most touching of ways we watch as she makes her way back home and begins a conversation over breakfast with her husband Dennis (a hilarious Jim Broadbent). The film cuts to a maid who is relieved to find Margaret back home and when we see the Thatcher's sitting at the table again only one still remains. It fades to a title screen and I have to say the mood is perfectly set for the film with that. We watch as we see the events of Thatcher's life unfold from her early years watching her father give speeches during World War II and becoming invigorated by them. Leading her to Oxford and onto marrying Dennis, a man who supports her fully to the House of Commons where Margaret must do more than speak her mind, but defend it because of her gender.

Margaret Thatcher (Meryl Streep) lets her opinion be
known in the House of Commons.
This battle she fought her entire life to be taken seriously as a woman in a position of power is the fight that director Lloyd really draws her focus to. It is clear she wants to see the world as Margaret saw it and with it being set up the way it has it makes the audience not only feel more understanding to the reasons Thatcher felt the way she did, but we see what formed those ideas and codes. It is made clear by the pacing that Thatcher saw each of these obstacles as a different battle in her life. She explicitly tells Dennis after he proposes that she will not be a woman to die "cleaning a tea cup". She was a woman who knew what she wanted and in her mind it was for all the right reasons. She never meant to disregard her children for her success, It wasn't even about success, for her it was about getting to a position where she could make a difference. This drive empowers Thatcher's selective memories that we get to see form a coherent story of how the way she thought would determine the woman she became. By her own theory she proved to be true, her character stood out no matter if you agreed or disagreed with her politics. Though I have no real idea of the political climate at the time (again politics is something that has always been more entertaining in films rather than real life) one thing the movie makes clear is that Thatcher was unafraid to make the hard decisions and speak her mind no matter who it meant alienating. This, all of this, boils down to the elderly woman we see at the beginning of the film. Lost in a world that is part reality part made of her own mind. It is such a sad fact, what time does, and to see Streep relay Thatcher as the influential prime minister and the dementia-riddled Margaret take us on this journey is something no history buff should skip, no matter the quarrels it might have with fact.

An older Dennis (Jim Broadbent) supports his Margaret
as she runs for the office of Prime Minister.
While "The Iron Lady" uses more montages featuring actual footage to bridge the gaps in time than I would have liked and the story itself feels slightly lackluster in its execution you cannot escape the engagement with which Streep embodies the character. Streep's performance is almost too good for the actual film it resides in. The movie is an earnest attempt to portray Thatcher in a light that approaches an honest version of the truth but while it is at times a very interesting drama, much of the spark it sometimes produces is lost in the disjointed structure. I understand what Lloyd was going for and her point is made, but still she should have allowed the thrilling prime minister ripe with diligence to control the screen more often than she does. Seeing Streep access that aspect of the prime ministers life is where the film really shines and the movie becomes more than just a history lesson or a biography but a thrilling story about how one person, a woman no less, made a difference. "The Iron Lady" is very much a tribute to what Thatcher did for women and the barrier's she broke, but it is also a look at life and what is really important when you finally come to the end of the road. This could have certainly been a better all around documentation of Thatcher's life and how the events of it played out but the advantage this version has is Streep. No matter how much we may not have learned about the actions she actually took we got to know Margaret Thatcher as a person and in a biopic if that is the only thing it excels in, well then I guess that counts for something.

THE IRON LADY Review

Walking into "The Iron Lady" I did not expect first and foremost to be the only audience member under the age of 50. I have always lived by the idea that despite it being a bad idea to receive your history lessons from the movies, it is always more entertaining to see actors play up how they thought historical figures might have really been. To see directors dream up a world that once existed as an authentic piece of cinema. Meryl Streep is no stranger to these waters as before she has channeled popular figures such as Julia Child or Miranda Priestley who was supposedly based on Anna Wintour. At this point, and with it being so consistent over the past few years, it felt Mrs. Streep might be pushing her luck in sticking within the safe realm of portraying real people. In this case, it is true she is a perfect fit for the first and only female prime minister of the United Kingdom and though I doubt anyone could have played this role better, I was still concerned. In the early stills released of the film Streep looked to be playing more of a gimmick than that of inhabiting the woman who changed the landscape of politics forever by simply being a woman. Turns out, this is of course another great performance from Streep (though I still think Viola Davis should have taken the Golden Globe and should still take the Oscar) that makes a movie with unsure footing rise above what could have been a representation of life that the actual Thatcher would have found unsatisfactory. Walking into "The Iron Lady" I did not expect a film that would favor flashbacks over a straight laced bio-pic, but this does offer some variation to the story and allows Streep the chance to make this as personal as possible. Giving the weight of the films story to her star was likely the best move director Phyllida Lloyd could made.

SHAME Review

"Shame" is certainly not for the faint of heart. You knew this if you purchased a ticket and had any interest in it though and so if you are reading this review I anticipate that you understand the content of "Shame". All this means is that you might have the will to look past the reasons this received an NC-17 rating and into the human soul that British director Steve McQueen is trying to document here. This is a film almost agonizing to endure, yet the redeemable qualities outweigh the drag of a pace so much you find yourself not necessarily enjoying the film, but rather engaged by it. There is an immediate intrigue to the movie, a mysterious tone that paints the film in grays and deep blues. Rarely do we see the white soaked, up scale apartment of Brandon (Michael Fassbender) during the day as he tries to escape what he knows he is. If it were not for this strand of a character element Brandon might seem inexcusable to the audience yet it is clear his addiction is something that haunts him, something that if he could, he would leave behind, but it is nearly impossible for him not to give in to the temptation. Fassbender, in a much talked about performance, is in a single word fearless. Not only for bearing his family jewels but because he bears so much more in his moving insight of a man who allows a general audience to glimpse a cold, bleak world. A world that is sometimes mocked on our entertainment shows, but "Shame" is a serious film and begs that you take it this way. You'll have no problem doing so, but it will test your limits and your patients. The only warning is to be prepared.

Brandon (Michael Fassbender) stares down a woman as
if it is prey and he is on the hunt.
The film opens with a fantastic scene in which Brandon, who always uses public transportation, stares down a woman on the subway. The pretty red head returns his gaze for the first few minutes, Brandon unflinching in his desire to have her. She begins to get uncomfortable, the film now cutting back and forth between the train ride and Brandon in his apartment as he goes about a routine morning, ignoring a voicemail being left by his sister. From the first moments McQueen is attempting to pull us into this competing world of ideals, this battle Brandon has going on in his head. The red head steps up, the camera pans down to her hand that possesses a wedding ring. Brandon, again unflinching stands up behind her. A single breath is taken by him and she feels it. The idea of what she could do with him (or more rightly so, what he wants to do to her) flashes across her face, but it seems too overwhelming and she makes for the door. Brandon goes after her, unsure of what he'll do if this desire goes unfulfilled. He stops short almost in a state of shock at the lengths he has gone too, but you can't nearly tell if it is this that frustrates him or the fact he let her get away. "Shame" can be summed up in this early scene, as it portrays what Brandon is, how he operates and his desires that go past the carnal. You can bet the house that McQueen will return to this method as well as it brilliantly portrays in only images and backing symphonic sounds the process of a seduction. In many ways the entire film could be compared to this first scene. Slowly pulling us in, we are scared at first to glimpse a world that we might find truth in, that we may see our own reflection in. Attempting to resist what might feel like instinct, while understanding it is not acceptable.

Sissy (Carey Mulligan) performs a version of the Frank
Sinatra staple "New York, New York".
This certain feeling of abnormality is tested for Brandon when his sister comes to stay with him. It is clear from their relationship why Brandon disengages any type of intimate relationship. His sister, as he points out, is a burden on him. Who, as played by Carey Mulligan, comes and goes as she wishes jumping from one guy to another and then calling them in desperation just as she had done with her brother. The introduction of Mulligan's Sissy reveals little about their childhood together though it is consistently hinted that there is a painful past there. More than anything Sissy's arrival forces Brandon to adjust his casual life of hiding from the world and finding solace in his computer or other sources that feed his addiction. I found it interesting that McQueen and writing partner Abi Morgan chose to document the only relationship Brandon must feel a slight bit of need to keep strong. The fact is, when we first meet him he could care less if he saw or spoke to Sissy again. In trying to illustrate why Brandon feels the need for his solitude they have given Sissy an attitude that is just the right amount of nag and entitlement. There are moments, such as when Mulligan performs a rendition of "New York, New York" that resonate with Brandon, making him understand why the world and society has been constructed as it has and why people follow what he no doubt sees as conventions. His sisters voice brings a tear to his eye. It gives Brandon a glimpse into what he probably feels is real humanity because the fact of the matter is he doesn't like the person he has become. He knows that he is twisted, that how he craves the need to fulfill his sexual desires isn't normal, but he can't help himself. In that moment we see him wonder if Sissy can. In that small moment we see the film's only real glimpse of light.

Brandon and Sissy discuss their difficult brother/sister
relationship in "Shame".
"Shame" evokes a certain sad world, a cold place where our main character walks among everyone and goes throughout his day with the smallest hint there is something off about him. The addiction does not compromise Brandon's life to the point that it takes over his entire being. He is able to keep his job, and is successful at it, but every woman he sees that elicits his wounds reminds him of what a monster he feels like on the inside. Fassbender gives a performance that will no doubt be showered with nominations as he finds a truth to a man who is never satisfied. a man who is looking for more where nothing else seems to exist. What I find interesting though is that as sexually charged a man Brandon is, he pales in comparison to another man Fassbender portrayed this year. In David Cronenberg's "A Dangerous Method" Fassbender plays Dr. Carl Jung who goes from trying to analyze the mind of a sex addict and what motivates this behavior to a man of lust himself. While Brandon could have easily been a patient of Jung's it would have almost been more engaging to watch Fassbender portray Brandon in a way that elicits Jung's realizations about the world around him rather than already believing he has it all figured out. In the end, "Shame" is a piece of work that some will call art, others will call trash. For me, it is not an experience I plan on re-living again, it is simply too much of a drag, a downer to watch again, but in the moment it commands your attention and despite the vulgarity of what you might see on screen it is nearly impossible to look anywhere else.

SHAME Review

"Shame" is certainly not for the faint of heart. You knew this if you purchased a ticket and had any interest in it though and so if you are reading this review I anticipate that you understand the content of "Shame". All this means is that you might have the will to look past the reasons this received an NC-17 rating and into the human soul that British director Steve McQueen is trying to document here. This is a film almost agonizing to endure, yet the redeemable qualities outweigh the drag of a pace so much you find yourself not necessarily enjoying the film, but rather engaged by it. There is an immediate intrigue to the movie, a mysterious tone that paints the film in grays and deep blues. Rarely do we see the white soaked, up scale apartment of Brandon (Michael Fassbender) during the day as he tries to escape what he knows he is. If it were not for this strand of a character element Brandon might seem inexcusable to the audience yet it is clear his addiction is something that haunts him, something that if he could, he would leave behind, but it is nearly impossible for him not to give in to the temptation. Fassbender, in a much talked about performance, is in a single word fearless. Not only for bearing his family jewels but because he bears so much more in his moving insight of a man who allows a general audience to glimpse a cold, bleak world. A world that is sometimes mocked on our entertainment shows, but "Shame" is a serious film and begs that you take it this way. You'll have no problem doing so, but it will test your limits and your patients. The only warning is to be prepared.

ALBERT NOBBS Review

I have always been aware of Glenn Close, it is just with my generation she has never been the movie star that she was just before my time. I wasn't born yet or wasn't old enough to appreciate her work when she was in her prime and as silly as this may sound, where my mind goes to when I think of Glenn Close is in fact Cruella DeVil. When I saw her in the live action version of "101 Dalmations" when I was nine years-old she was great. I could have imagined no better incarnation of the classic Disney villain, but I still had no idea who Glenn Close was. Since then, her major influence on the Hollywood scene has been the TV show "Damages". Since, I have of course seen more of her work now, whether it be "Fatal Attraction", "Dangerous Liasons" or "Air Force One" still, I haven't felt like I really got to know Glenn Close until watching her latest, passion project "Albert Nobbs". The bad thing is, that as much as this premise promises to be engaging, interesting and certainly thought provoking, it turns out to be a rather dull experience. This is not by the simple fact it is set in 19th Century Ireland either; I love the time period, the way of life and there is a strong supporting cast here that should lavish our main character with layers of interesting places to go. That is the problem though, much like Nobbs him/herself the film feels full of dreams and aspirations that never actually come to fruition.

Albert Nobbs (Glenn Close) works as a butler while
serving Mr. Holloran (Brendan Gleeson) a drink. 
If you haven't heard of the film or are unsure what the story is, it gives a glimpse into the life of a woman who has concealed her gender for more than thirty years. She has worked as a butler of sorts at a Dublin hotel for the upper class. She has concealed her true identity for so long though she has made and settled herself in her own trappings. The film picks up when Albert is suddenly confronted with dilemmas to the lifestyle she has carried on for so long and her dedication to the role is challenged by the arrival of a painter who turns out to understand Albert better than anyone could have imagined. This introduces us to Hubert as played by Janet McTeer, who is truly one of the more moving aspects in the film. There is an odd side story that begins to play into the main plot of the film that has Albert attempting to help a pretty hotel maid named Helen (Mia Wasikowska). Albert seeing what Hubert has done to make a happy existence out of a similar situation allows Albert hope that she too may have that same kind of companionship. There is also the fact that Albert has been saving her money for years in order to begin her own business but as Nobbs tries to swoon Helen it is well known by the rest of the staff that Helen has already taken up with the hotel's new handyman Joe (Aaron Johnson). Joe likes the idea of taking advantage of weird and meek little Albert's generosity but Helen finds it morally incomprehensible the more Joe tries to take. With all of this going on, and a bad plague of the fever adding extra stress this sounds like a rather relentless drama filled with plenty of things to keep it busy when in reality it transfers to the screen in a slow paced and devastating manner.

Hubert (Janet McTeer) is just as battered a soul as our
central character Albert, but more interesting...
While this summary may allow someone to see where this could be extremely interesting as a film to watch play out it instead doesn't offer enough insight into the complex world of Albert as I wanted. I was eager to see the film as I thought it sounded like an interesting and somewhat original take on a psychological state of mind. This has always been a source of much interest for me and to see such an odd predicament as a woman pretending for so long to conceal what she really was in a time when the advantages of such a trick were clearly evident is all the more reason to understand her reasoning but clearly there are more deep seeded issues going on. The main problem with Close's production though is the fact her title character is too reclusive that even we as an audience never feel we get to know Albert in a personal way. We are made to feel like the rest of the staff at hotel who only know Albert from a distance. They are somewhat befuddled by the recluse that never exposes himself enough to either become vulnerable or a part of their small community. While Close is clearly dedicated to the role and this is a project close to her heart as she also co-wrote the screenplay, wrote an original song for the film and produced it, still, the character she inhabits is not a central focus. Instead, Nobbs should be a supporting player in the tale of Hubert. With Janet McTeer, she embodies the painter with a real sense of who she is in a world confused. While Albert is trying to figure out his role in the world Hubert is already living it. There collision with one another is the heart of the film no doubt, it just seemed the perspective was off.

Albert Nobbs admires young Helen (MiaWasikowska)
as they walk out together.
"Albert Nobbs" is one of those pieces of work that is, from its conceptualization as a motion picture, set up to be an awards contender. Surely Close and McTeer will receive nominations for their respective work, but if a film as a whole is not as interesting or in Nobbs' case, well played, does it merit the aspired awards praise? It's not that I am coming down on "Albert Nobbs" as it is not a bad film, but for all the award seeking films coming out at this time of year this certainly feels like the one with bigger aspirations than its actual context could support. I am usually a movie-goer who will see any film that looks to be a contender come awards season, but I wanted to see "Albert Nobbs" purely out of the interest in the story it was telling. Sadly, it didn't engage me as I expected and even with supporting players like the ever promising Aaron Johnson and Mia Wasikowska who seem wise beyond their years as far as interest in roles go can't do enough with their ill fated storyline to add real spice to the films dull palette. Even the always entertaining Brendan Gleeson and a small cameo by Jonathan Rhys Myers can't up the fun factor here as Nobbs is just not enough of a presence to carry the full weight of our interests for two hours. I admire Close for her love of the project but this won't change how I think of her. When I hear her name I'll still think of Cruella rather than quiet ole Albert.