The Drop

September 12, 2014 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Tom Hardy, James Gandolfini, Noomi Rapace
Directed by: Michael R. Roskam (“Bullhead”)
Written by: Dennis Lehane (debut)

Adapted from his short story “Animal Rescue,” screenwriter/novelist Dennis Lehane is known for setting his crime dramas in the city of Boston. Two of his novels, “Gone Baby Gone” and “Mystic River,” were given the cinematic treatment a few years ago and made Boston brim with the kind of atmosphere you couldn’t generate in any other U.S. city. It’s doesn’t seem to be as important to Lehane in “The Drop.” Although his original story is set in Boston, filmmakers have transplanted the narrative in Brooklyn and have done so without upsetting their characters’ way of life. Maybe the studio changed locations because crime dramas in Boston have become overused in recent years (along with “Gone” and “River,” films like “The Town” and “The Departed” have taken full advantage of the city’s unique ambiance), but whatever the case, “The Drop” is still a smart, seething production led by a striking performance by actor Tom Hardy.

In “The Drop,” Hardy plays Bob Saginowski, a quiet, goodhearted bartender who does what he’s told and never lets the fact that his bar operates as a place where Brooklyn’s seediest criminals conduct money drops affect him. Along with his cousin Marv (James Gandolfini in his final film role and playing against type although it’s a mob movie), who owns the bar but still has to answer to the Chechen gangsters in charge, the two men seem content having a low-key profile and sticking to what they know best: serving beer to their neighborhood customers. When their bar, however, is robbed one evening by two masked thugs, Bob and Marv are thrown into a life-threatening situation they’d rather not be in.

Carried by a performance that shows what an incredible range Hardy has as an actor, the character of Bob Saginowski is a confident albeit understated one reminiscent of Sylvester Stallone’s Oscar nominated role in the original 1977 “Rocky.” You can tell Bob isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed, but there’s something about him that lets you know he’s in control of the situation. Aside from being on bad terms with the Russian mob for losing their money, Bob is also caught up in another incident that has him looking over his shoulder. After saving an abused and abandoned pit bull puppy from the street, with the help from a woman in the neighborhood (Noomie Rapace), Bob is confronted by the dog’s ruthless and irrational owner (an incredible Matthias Schoenaerts) who is a known murderer amongst the locals in the area.

In his English-language directorial debut, Oscar-nominated director Michael R. Roskam (“Bullhead”) is able to slowly build up the intensity of each scene effortlessly despite some of the storylines stretching themselves thin at times. While Rapace is a reasonable factor to include in the scenario, not much builds out of the relationship between her and Hardy to consider it significant. It’s the connection between Bob and Marv and the criminal underworld and how they’ve adapted to it over the years that feels the most authentic to what Lehane and Roskam want to say. It’s this part of the  narrative that keeps the Brooklyn-based plot involving all the way up to its twisty climax.

Enough Said

September 27, 2013 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, James Gandolfini, Catherine Keener
Directed by: Nicole Holofcener (“Please Give”)
Written by: Nicole Holofcener (“Please Give”)

Imagine going on a first date with someone who instantly provided you with a hard-copy list of his or her bad habits and personality deficiencies even before you touched the appetizer. How much time would you save—and how many subsequent dinners could you skip over—if you automatically knew things weren’t going to work out because the seemingly normal person sitting in front of you likes to attend smooth jazz concerts and doesn’t recycle?

In “Enough Said,” a sharply written and moving romantic dramedy from director/writer Nicole Holofcener (“Please Give”), the question is dangled in front of Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), a single mom and massage therapist, who unknowingly becomes friends with the ex-wife of her new boyfriend Albert (James Gandolfini, in his first film released posthumously before the crime drama “Animal Rescue” premieres in 2014). When Eva begins to take full advantage of the situation by asking Marianne (Catherine Keener) about her failed marriage, her curious nature and lack of moral judgment backfires as she uses the information she receives to expect the worst from Albert without giving him much of a sporting chance.

Ironically, the familiar set-up sounds like something Elaine and Jerry would debate in an episode of “Seinfeld” (wouldn’t you want to know your date was a Nazi from the get-go?), so having Louis-Dreyfus at the center of the narrative feels almost natural even though her iconic Elaine character is nowhere to be seen. What we find instead is an emotionally complicated woman who digs herself too deep into a lie she can’t crawl out of to make amends. With her well-known comedic background, Louis-Dreyfus rarely gets the opportunity to put her dramatic talent on display, so uncovering those little moments in Holofcener’s compassionate script is terrific.

Also showing his range is the late Gandolfini, whose soft-hearted and vulnerable approach to Albert is impressive. His shared scenes with Louis-Dreyfus highlight Holofcener’s craftsmanship as a screenwriter. The dialogue is effortless as we watch Eva and Albert (both divorced and preparing to experience empty-nest syndrome) maneuver through their dates like a veteran quarterback would a pre-season scrimmage. They’re not trying to impress each other, but they still want to perform well enough to stay in the game.

With a perfect combination of understated humor and unpretentious drama, “Enough Said” is a sweet and oftentimes sad portrait of two middle-aged souls searching for happiness and comfort the way people used to do it before technology took away the human aspect of interface. Plus, knowing we’ll never get to see Gandolfini in another touching role like this makes all the difference when the screen cuts to black.

Not Fade Away

January 7, 2013 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: John Magaro, Jack Huston, Will Brill
Written by: David Chase (debut)
Directed by: David Chase (debut)

After 30 years in the television business and monumental success as the creator and mastermind behind “The Sopranos,” writer/director David Chase makes his feature film debut with “Not Fade Away,” an uneven coming-of-age story told in the world of rock ‘n’ roll.

Set in New Jersey in the 1960’s, “Not Fade Away” tells the story of a group of friends led by Douglas (John Magaro) who form a rock band and try to make it big. In the lead role, the somewhat unknown Magaro, at age 29, is remarkably able to capture the youth of a late teen. Though it is helped by the general look of the ‘60s, Magaro also captures the rebellious attitude of a teenager/early adult of the era. None of the supporting performances truly stand out, except for that of James Gandolfini who is solid as Magaro’s strict father.

One thing that Chase gets right in “Not Fade Away” is the overall feel of the 60’s. The dress, the cars, the attitudes all come through as well as seeing major events through Chase’s lens, like the effects of Beatlemania and the Kennedy Assassination. Additionally, Chase nails just about everything musical in the film. It’s loaded with classic 60’s rock with an omnipresence of Rolling Stones tunes both from the band itself and covers from the fictional band within the film. The scenes in which the band in the film rehearse, perform or take part in the song writing process are very easily the best part of the picture.

Unfortunately, the film falters almost everywhere else. If there is an overarching theme of the problems with “Not Fade Away” it would be an overall lack of resolution. The storyline, in a general sense, is about a band trying to make it big and a typical coming-of-age film. However, “Not Fade Away” doesn’t provide much beyond simply driving the narrative forward, as plot lines seem to ultimately not matter. Some are even quickly abandoned. Similarly, Chase leaves very little room for character development. There are many instances of events happening to characters followed by their disappearance from the movie altogether.

Overall, “Not Fade Away” lacks a certain touch. The narrative is clunky, scenes end at strange times and there are inexplicable and seemingly random jumps in time. What could have ended up being a nostalgic coming-of-age rock ‘n’roll tale ends up being a film marred with undeveloped plot lines, choppy editing and a serious lack of direction. As a love-letter to ‘60s rock ‘n’ roll, Chase is sincere, thoughtful and at times impressive. As a complete film, however, he leaves plenty to be desired.

Where the Wild Things Are

October 16, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Max Records, James Gandolfini, Catherine Keener
Directed by: Spike Jonze (“Being John Malkovich”)
Written by: Spike Jonze (“Being John Malkovich”) and Dave Eggers (“Away We Go”)
 
Not since director Alfonso Cuarón’s “A Little Princess” in 1995 has a film captured the vastness of a child’s emotional scope than Spike Jonze’s “Where the Wild Things Are.” Based on Maurice Sendak’s classic children’s book, the film is an artistic and extraordinarily expressive fantasy that evokes the complexities of life through a misunderstood nine-year-old boy named Max (Max Records).
 
Max is angry. His igloo fortress has been demolished by his older sister’s friends, his science teacher just announced to his class that sometime in the distant future the sun is going to die, and the family dog won’t stay put long enough for Max to get him in a good headlock.
 
Max’s resentment boils over when his mother (Catherine Keener) seems more interested in spending time with her boyfriend (Mark Ruffalo) rather than going upstairs to look at the bed-sheet fort he has built in his room. The snub prompts Max to toss on his wolfish pajamas and cause a dysfunctional family scene in front of his mother’s company.
 
Enraged, Max runs out of the house and through the neighborhood until he reaches a rickety sailboat that will inevitably wash up on the shore of a dreamlike island inhabited by a pack of, well, wild things.

The creatures, portrayed fantastically by visionary director Spike Jonze (“Being John Malkovich”) and Jim Henson Shop designers, stomp, growl, and destroy things with the best of them, but there’s also a softer side to these characters that enhances Sendak’s nine-sentenced book. Not long before Max makes his introduction to them, the wild things crown him king after his exaggerated storytelling impresses them. The script, penned by Jonze and Dave Eggers (“Away We Go”), bristles with well-written dialogue as Max holds casual conversations during his stay on the island.

Each furry beast has his or her own personality and shares some of those traits with Max. All of them are disheartened in some way, including Carol (James Gandolifini), who is to Max what the Scarecrow was to Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz.” Their bond grows as Max instructs all the monsters to – brace yourself for the main plot of the film – build a colossal fort where they can all live together as one big family.

The storyline, however, isn’t what makes “Wild Things” one of the most remarkable and daring family films of the last decade (although one could argue most kids are really not going to be able to wrap their heads around the more philosophical scenes in the movie). Instead, it’s Jonze’s seamless attention to the affecting relationships Max is experiencing in his parallel worlds that makes “Wild Things” truly memorable.

The entire film speaks on a metaphorical level that is imaginative and disturbing. There’s no easy answer to the sadness Max or the wild things are feeling. Jonze and Eggers don’t pretend to have one either.  At his core, Max just wants to feel safe. It’s unexpected that he would find this amongst animals who, at any given time, could swallow him whole or crush him as they horseplay.

Minimal in delivery and heavy on melancholy and themes related to loneliness and sorrow, “Wild Things,” which took more than five years to complete, is worth every second Jonze spent creating this new classic tale. It’s far removed from Hollywood and is every bit hopeful and painful as the most perceptive mind could imagine.