Tag Archives: Review

The French couldn’t be bothered to translate it to English. Typical.

The Intouchables (2012)

 Writer/Director

Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano

 The translator at the distributor working on the film ‘Les Intouchables’ was either very drunk or simply failed to show up to work on the day because The Intouchables is simply not English. A more accurate translation would be ‘Untouchable’. But perhaps the French filmmakers decided to screw the rest of the world over and leave us all wondering how the heck to pronounce the name of their film. I wouldn’t rule that out too quickly.  

Regardless of the naming fiasco, The Intouchables was a smash hit in France, where the general population were spared the debacle of having to figure how to pronounce the darn thing and could simply enjoy the slightly cheesy yet remarkably charming story. For many reasons the film should never have been a smash hit. The story is largely predictable, skirts dangerously close to racial stereotypes, no scratch that – it does racially stereotype and on top of all this, it lacks a punchy climax to pull it out of its bumbling pace. Whilst everything about this film points to it being another forgettable ‘dramedy’, its quirky nature and phenomenal performances help it crawl under your skin and lodge itself in your heart before you’ve even realised. 

The film is based on true events, telling the story of a rich, aristocratic quadriplegic, Phillippe who is in search of a new full-time care-taker. Despite interviewing a host of qualified applicants, Phillippe chooses the least likely, an African immigrant named Driss, who’s merely applying for the job in order to apply for welfare. It didn’t take long for the racial stereotyping get underway with the rich, uptight white man, who is thrust together (by his own choosing) with a black, unmotivated, immigrant who appears to be more interested in drugs and women than anything else. And so begins a ‘clash of cultures’, ‘buddy film’ where ultimately both individuals are positively influenced by their counterpart, despite coming from other ends of the city. As I’ve said before, on paper, there’s nothing new to be seen but that is the magic of cinema. The simplest, most cliche’d and uninteresting premise can be given a new lease of life through one of many avenues available to a director. In this particular case, Intouchables owe’s all its charm and success – in my opinion – to the casting and performances.

Driss played by Omar Sy is without doubt the start of the film. From his somewhat bombastic entrance he wins you over with his unpolished and refreshingly honest candour. Even his offside comments to the female personnel of Philippe’s estate come across with as harmless chirping than offensive harassment. 

Driss, like the film itself has a knack for getting under your skin and causing you to laugh at him as well as with him. As one might expect, Driss is taught the notions of discipline, etiquette and refinement as he’s transported from his world of poverty, unemployment and trouble with the police. Whilst Philippe offers Driss a lesson in living life respectably as well as a means of reputable income, he in return is offered the chance to live life fully, despite his obvious physical restrictions. 

The Intouchables is a feel-good, light hearted and memorable film that speaks to the heart far more than the head. Though it never strives to be the poster boy for cinematic mastery, it finds itself as an unexpected masterpiece in simple, engaging and memorable storytelling.  

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Disconnect (2012)

Directed by: Henry Alex Rubin

Written: Andrew Stern

Stars:  Jason Bateman, Jonah Bobo, Haley Ramm

 

 

This week for date night we went to watch Henry Rubin’s latest film, Disconnect. We were deciding between The Company You Keep, Disconnect or Now You See Me, but the generally poor reviews and appearance of superpowers in the other two steered us away. Whilst probably not your typical date night movie, it was powerful and deeply impacting in a way that I wish more films were. 

 

The subject matter of the film was what drew me to the film in the first place – the increasingly destructive presence of digital connections in our lives which leave us further apart from one another and disconnected from the present. Whilst I love my iPhone and 3G connection, I’m trying to take steps to curb my addiction to social media. The constant need for a ‘like’ on a new Instagram picture or the instinctual act of refreshing my twitter feed seconds after I’ve already done so are areas that need addressing. But I digress.

 

To sum up briefly, the film follows three separate but slightly interconnected stories. The catalyst in each story is the use of digital communication and central role it plays in the disaster that ensues. Cindy and Derek, a young married couple grieving the loss of their infant son, have their marriage placed under fire when their identities are stolen via an online grievers support chat room. Robbed of everything and barely looking at one another anymore, they have their dark habits revealed by private investigator Mike Dixon (Frank Grillo) as he tries to uncover the source of the fraud. 

 

Whilst probably the weakest of the three narratives, Cindy and Derek’s story paints an eyeopening and heartbreaking picture of a marriage that has been hollowed out by a tragedy and the growing coldness of two lives. As Derek decides in a moment of determination, to take matters in his own hands and confront the suspected fraudster, we’re presented with a vivid account of the lengths someone would go to when they’re at a point of desperation. Everything in me screamed at him to allow the police and due process to take its course. It’s in these desperate situations that people are driven by frustration to do emotional and irrational decisions they could live to regret for the rest of their lives. Cindy and Derek’s trial did have the positive outcome of drawing them closer together again, but it could easily have gone the other way and ended up in another tragedy. 

 

The second story is that of ambitious reporter Nina Dunham and Internet ‘sex model’ Kyle who can’t be a day older than 18. If you are uncertain as to what a sex model is, let me save you from the potential mine field you’ll land in should you try Google it. Essentially, Kyle is one of a number of underage youths who are pimped out to paying customers to interact with via chat and Skype-like forums. Nina makes contact with Kyle eventually resulting in a CNN interview, exposing the exploitation that is taking place. Kyle is a good looking and seemingly confident kid who knows how to please his pimp and clientele, but beneath the shallow surface he’s a lonely and insecure youngster, caught up in a horrible world of drugs and exploitation. 

 

By far the most gripping, wrenching and cautionary of tales told in the film is that of Ben Boyd (Jonah Bobo) and teenage bullies Jason (Colin Ford) and Frye (Aviad Bernstein). Son of hotshot lawyer Rich played superbly by Jason Bateman, Ben is an awkward, ‘emo’ looking teenager who loves his music – and appears to be pretty darn good at it. His father is forever connected to his Blackberry and their relationship is all but nonexistent. I don’t doubt there’ll be a new generation of absent fathers and husbands (as well as wives and mothers) lost not to business trips and long work hours necessarily but to their devices and constant connection to everyone else but those closest to them. 

 

Disconnect does some things very well, in my opinion. Firstly, the performances are superb. Jason Bateman and Frank Grillo produce some tragically realistic performances as fathers radically detached from their sons. Likewise, Colin Ford and Max Thieret who plays Kyle, are also very impressive. Kyle as mentioned above does well to mask the insecurity of his lonely character with the false bravado and confidence that he struts so well. 

Ultimately I think the direction by Rubin deserves praising. Disconnect provides a spine-chilling window into the potential harsh realities of middle class life. Personally I always thought bullying was something that was inevitable and par of the course for kids. But having watched this, I now have a far greater understanding of the seriousness of the issue. 

Every now and then I do enjoy a great heist drama, spy thriller or genuinely funny comedy, but its films like Disconnect that I always enjoy watching and believe should be produced more often – not because they entertain me for a mere 90 odd minutes, but because they have a lasting impact on my thoughts and actions long afterwards.

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Silver Linings Playbook

Directed By: David O. Russell                                                                                  Image

Starring: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro

Nominated for Best Picture and scooping up the Best Actress (Jennifer Lawrence) prize at this year’s Oscars, Silver Linings Playbook is one romantic comedy I felt I needed to muster up the courage and attempt to sit through. Although I didn’t quite manage one sitting, over two sessions I completed the film leaving with some mixed emotions, much like the film itself.

 

Set in middle class suburban Philadelphia Silver Linings Playbook (SLP) tells the story of Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper), a lovable character battling with a bi-polar disorder as he tries to win back the affections of his estranged wife. The film starts with Pat being released from a psychiatric hospital and moving back in with his parents. After meeting recently widowed Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) the two strike up an unlikely friendship with Pat agreeing to enter into a dance competition with Tiffany if she agrees to help him send letters to his wife. As the story progresses, the two become closer with each helping the other deal with their own internal insecurities and disorders.

 

I think it’s safe to say that without the performances of Cooper, Lawrence and De Niro, SLP would not be the film that it is. For me, Cooper was the star of the show. Director David Russell and Bradley Cooper created an undeniably lovable character despite his obvious flaws and sometimes violent outbursts. In a scene that is bound to win the hearts of even the most cynical viewers Pat is up reading his wife’s set works at 4am when he suddenly launches the book through the window in an outrage. He then storms into his parents room to share his anger at the treatment of Ernst Hemmingway’s character. The scene is poignant insight into the mind of a bi-polar sufferer and instantly creates a connection between the audience and Pat. 

Whilst ultimately the film is a love story with a predictable ending, it punches far above it’s weight as it deals with the fragile state of the human heart (and mind), the pain of rejection and the desperate search for renewal. Every character in the film is broken in some respect. Pat’s dad is a superstitious Philadelphia Eagles fan, willing to gamble his life’s savings on a single game in the belief that Pat is essentially a good luck charm. Like his son, he is prone to the occasional violent outburst. Pat’s friend Ronnie faces his own marriage problems whilst Tiffany struggles with sexual addiction in the wake of her husbands death. As is true in life, all the film’s characters are broken in their own unique way and rely on one another to overcome their own personal obstacles.

 It’s never easy making a film around subject matter as sensitive as mental illness but Russell manages to convey the tragedy of the disorder whilst still injecting light hearted moments to keep you from slumping into the valley of despair and depression. Ultimately everyone is dealing with the own issues and obstacles. Ultimately Silver Linings Playbook is less about a particular disorder than it is about shedding light on our own personal disorders and the need for collaboration and community in dealing with them.

 

Performances: 8/10

Plot/Development 6/10

Direction 7/10

Overall 7/10

Trailer

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Tree of Life (2011)


Directed by: Terrence Malick

Written by:Terrence Malick

Cinematography by: Emmanuel Lubezki

Starring: Sean Penn, Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain

At first glance The Tree of Life (2011) has the all markings of a brilliant film. The DVD cover is stamped with the Palm d’Or award from Cannes and the cast includes the legendary likes of Brad Pitt and Sean Penn. However if you watch the film of Life expecting a typical Hollywood popcorn entertainer, you’ll be left sorely disappointed and probably very confused. The latest work by director Terrance Malick is an artist’s masterpiece in the medium of film more than anything else. The fact that Malick is the man behind the work should give some indication to what kind of experience you’re in for – think Thin Red Line and Badlands. There’s no popcorn Hollywood here.

The Tree of Life is an exploration more than a storytelling. It explores the relationship and interaction of nature versus grace, survival versus nurture and the fundamental questions regarding the beginning of the universe – a fairly ambitious task. The film juxtaposes images of nature in its purest form (volcanoes, dinosaurs, landscapes) and the galaxies with the microcosm of a small town Texan family set in the 1950’s. Brad Pitt plays the role of Mr O’Brien, the authoritarian father of three boys in their preteen years while the gentile Jessica Chastain plays their graceful and quiet souled mother. Sean Penn plays, Jack, the oldest of the three boys, in the midst of a midlife crisis in modern day America. The narrative cuts between scenes of Jack as a young boy growing up with his brothers and Jack as midlife architect vividly remembering his childhood.

Pitt outdoes himself as a loving yet overbearing father and husband. One gets the sense he genuinely loves his boys but his outbursts of anger are harrowing and fearful. Jack grows up resenting his father and seeking mercy in the arms of his loving mother. Sean Penn hardly utters a word in any of his sequences but his expressions and body language express his torment and inner strife superbly.

Malick does an excellent job of bringing out the best in all his characters, allowing the filming process to be as natural as possible. Pitt explains in the commentary that the fight scene between Mr and Mrs O’Brien was a completely natural and un-choreographed sequence. The boys interaction seems completely natural and unscripted. A great piece of directing indeed.

The cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki is breathtaking. From the epic shots of the raw and wild earth to the sequences of stars and planets, virtually every shot is a beautiful frame in itself. Even the sequences around the home and garden of the O’Brien’s are fluid and beautiful. Natural lighting is used in the home, giving the colors a soft and pastel feel whilst the outside scenes are full of warm glows and lens flares. Tree of Life is visual storytelling in its purest form. The narrative isn’t carried by the dialogue but rather the by beautiful, raw and juxtaposed visuals of nature and the family.

The film is not for everyone. What it does do is show that film-making can be so much more than a temporary blip of entertainment in our lives. The Tree of Life is a work of fine art in amongst a collection of graffiti. Unfortunately industry is more interested in creating graffiti as that’s what makes the money. Thankfully directors like Malick exist who are willing and able to create something beautifully different.

Plot/Development: 7/10 (I struggled to follow it without the aid of the commentary)

Cinematography: 9/10

Performances 9/10

Entertainment Rating: 8/10

Quality Rating : 83%

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