Once Upon A Time In America (1984)

Directed by: Sergio Leone

Cinematography: Tonino Delli Colli

Starring: Robert De Niro, James Woods, Elizabeth McGovern, Larry Rapp, also Jennifer Connelly

Runtime: 3h 49m

Genre: Crime, Drama

Rating: ♣♣♣♣♣

 

When I picked up Once Upon a Time in America I had no idea what it was about and certainly no idea how long it was.  I put off starting the film for a few days and then settled in.  The film is set between the 1920’s to the 1960’s and follows the life of David “Noodles” Aaronson, a Jewish gangster who grew up during prohibition, played by De Niro.  Noodles reluctantly returns to his childhood neighborhood and reflects on a life of excitement, passion, and betrayal.  Sergio Leone’s final film features a well-crafted and driving story line, masterfully executed suspense sequences, and elegant editing and camera work.

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Founder, The (2016)

FOUNDER

Directed by: John Lee Hancock

Cinematography: John Schwartzman

Starring: Michael Keaton, Nick Offerman, John Carroll LynchLinda Cardellini

Runtime: 1h 55m

Genre: Biography, Drama

Rating: ♣♣♣

“The Founder” follows Ray Kroc, played by Michael Keaton, as he transitions from a milk shake maker salesman to ‘founding’ the biggest name in fast food.  His duplicitous behavior helped bring him riches beyond his wildest imagination, but at the cost of both business and personal relationships.  The director, John Lee Hancock, straddles the benevolent nature of big business by showcasing Kroc’s success through self-fulfilling perseverance and blatant disregard for anyone else.  His desire to maintain forward momentum left many behind him in his wake in order for one the best business models to date to flourish.  Good, wholesome, intentions overpowered by greed and pride is at the heart of this film.  Did Richard and Maurice McDonald lack the follow-through to execute a venture on this magnitude or were they just steamrolled by an ambitious cutthroat?

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Babel (2006)

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Directed by: Alejandro González Iñárritu

Cinematography: Rodrigo Prieto

Starring: Brad PittCate BlanchettGael García BernalAdriana BarrazaRinko Kikuchi

Runtime: 2h 23m

Genre: Drama

Rating: ♣♣♣♣♣

 

“I’m not bad I just did something stupid.”

 

Babel‘s immersive story sends us on a trip to Morocco, Japan, Mexico, and The United States.  The plot follows four main story lines that are all linked by a .270 Winchester M70 rifle.  A husband and wife, played by Pitt and Blanchett, on vacation in Morocco, a small family in the Moroccan desert, two children and their nanny in San Diego and Mexico, and a young deaf woman in Japan.  The screenplay is seamlessly spliced between these story arcs and tracks a non-linear timeline.  Through times of violence and regret, each character is learning how to grow from their mistakes.

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Nocturnal Animals (2016)

Nocturnal Animals Art Gallery Naked

Directed by: Tom Ford

Cinematography: Seamus McGarvey

Starring: Amy AdamsJake GyllenhaalMichael ShannonAaron Taylor-Johnson

Runtime: 1h 56m

Genre: Drama, Thriller

Rating: ♣♣♣♣♣

 

Life and love are crafted through choices and sacrifices.  Tom Ford’s adaptation of Susan and Tony, by Austin Wright, clearly shows how choice and sacrifice have an unequivocal role in determining one’s path in life.  Merriam-Webster defines sacrifice as “an act of offering to a deity something precious; especially :  the killing of a victim on an altar.” The choice and sacrifice made on the part of Susan Morrow, played by Amy Adams, meets these criteria and dictates both her life and that of Edward Sheffield, played by Jake Gyllenhaal.

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Toni Erdmann (2016)

Directed by: Maren Ade

Cinematography: Patrick Orth

Starring: Sandra HüllerPeter SimonischekMichael Wittenborn, and Thomas Loibl

Runtime: 2h 42m

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Rating: ♣♣♣♣

 

Toni Erdmann is triumphant in its use of socially uncomfortable situations to pursue a relaxed and less serious take on life.  The film follows uptight and determined business woman, Ines Conradi, played by Sandra Hüller, and her jester father, Winifred, a.k.a Toni Erdmann, played by Peter Simonischek.  Their characters could not be more polar when it comes to self-confidence in terms of social acceptance. In other words, he doesn’t care what people think about him and she is obsessed with self-image and self-preservation. Ines is making a name for herself as a consultant in the oil industry in Bucharest, Romania.  Winifred is a teacher in Germany who spontaneously decides to visit his daughter after the death of his dog.  Her somber and humorless demeanor mixed with her fierce determination to move up in her company puts her in a highly stressful state throughout the movie.  This, coupled with her father’s outrageous and eccentric persona that is embellished by his live-in-the-moment attitude and absence of shame, makes him push his daughter to her limits. Continue reading “Toni Erdmann (2016)”

Hell or High Water (2016)

Directed by: David Mackenzie

Cinematography: Giles Nuttgens

Starring: Ben Foster, Chris Pine, Jeff Bridges, Gil Birmingham

Runtime: 1h 42m

Genre: Crime, Drama, Western

Rating: ♣♣♣

 

Hell or High Water follows two brothers, Foster and Pine, as they crusade through West Texas with a carefully crafted bank robbing system.  Tepid on their trail are the Texas Rangers, Bridges and Birmingham.  The film falls victim to a few western clichés, the robin hood story and the soon-to-be retired Ranger on board for one last hurrah, however the story has some unexpected turns and is nimble and poignant in terms of lower class society.  The film touches on several relevant themes to the current social climate, including: the banking system, race, greed, and the effects all of these have on the working class. Continue reading “Hell or High Water (2016)”

The Wrestler (2008)

Directed by: Darren Aronofsky

Cinematography: Maryse Alberti

Starring: Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood, Todd Barry

Runtime: 1h 49m

Genre: Drama

Rating: ♣♣♣♣♣

Darren Aronofsky is a craftsman when it comes to engaging and immersive experiences.  There is a realism that his projects embody that is consistent through and through.  Everything from the script and story, the shots, the editing flow, and casting all come together to bring a unique experience for the viewer.  The Wrestler is no exception if this masterful approach to film. Continue reading “The Wrestler (2008)”

Mr. Nobody (2009)

Directed by: Jaco Van Dormael

Cinematography: Christophe Beaucarne

Starring: Jared LetoSarah PolleyDiane KrugerRhys IfansNatasha LittleLinh Dan PhamToby RegboJuno Temple

Runtime: 2hr 21m

Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Romance

Rating: ♣♣♣♣

 

Jaco Van Dormael’s Mr. Nobody is an ambitious project in terms of concept and structure. The film dissects life’s struggles and achievements through an examination of infinite choices, possibilities, and outcomes.  Nothing happens in a vacuum, and this film functions as a vehicle to demonstrate this idea.  An individual’s path in life can be broken down into a series of junctions defined by choices, actions, and responses.  Each junction setting the stage for the next and influenced by the previous.  Dormael accents this powerful exploration of the human mind with a mosaic of differing camera shots and editing styles.  The final result is a challenging concept that loses some of the impact through convolution.

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Black Swan (2010)

Directed by: Darren Aronofsky

Cinematography: Matthew Libatique

Starring: Natalie PortmanMila KunisVincent CasselBarbara HersheyWinona Ryder

Runtime: 1h 48m

Genre: Drama, Thriller, Psychological

Rating: ♣♣♣♣♣

 

Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan is a fresh interpretation of the 19th century ballet, Swan Lake.  The film follows Nina, played by Natalie Portman, as she trains for the part of the white/black swan.  A role that requires her to metamorphose from her pure and immaculate persona into an untamed embodiment of raw sexuality. Nina’s agonizing drive for perfection takes her on an odyssey into madness.  Aronofsky’s creative style and vision emphasizes the psychosis in this psychological thriller. Continue reading “Black Swan (2010)”

Love & Mercy (2014)

Directed by: Bill Pohlad

Cinematography: Robert D. Yeoman

Starring: Paul DanoJohn CusackElizabeth BanksPaul Giamatti

Runtime: 2h 1m

Genre: Biography, Drama

Rating: ♣♣♣♣

 

I am both a Paul Dano fan and a Beach Boys fan, especially in regards to Pet Sounds.  So, I was biased going in to this film from the onset.  Part of the reason I enjoyed Love & Mercy so much is the same reason I enjoy “Pet Sounds”, it challenges my thought process on life and forces introspection.  This album contributed to my psyche and I feel this film adequately conveyed Wilson’s vision.  The opening line of the movie passes by so quickly you might miss it.  Paul Dano, as young Briand Wilson, says, Continue reading “Love & Mercy (2014)”