Lost at sea. This film is a work of art. Stunning in so many ways, and it couldn't be simpler, but that's why it's so extraordinary. All is Lost, the second feature from Oscar nominated writer/director J.C. Chandor (of Margin Call previously), stars Robert Redford and only Redford as the sole captain of a sailboat that ends up lost at sea after being damaged in the Indian Ocean. There isn't any dialogue, only a few lines from Redford throughout, and nothing but him trying to survive on a boat for 106 minutes. It's grueling, thrilling, meticulous, inspiring and most importantly, moving. I can't stop thinking about it and how gorgeous it was.
The Hangover Part III is a bad comedy, and not bad like The Hangover Part II's ridiculous in-your-face rehashing of the first film's inventive and hilarious plot. It's as if Todd Phillips, writer/director of the series, got so fed up with complaints of the second film's copy-and-past attitude that he's gone in a completely different direction, to the point that The Hangover Part III isn't really even a comedy. The dark corner the second film took begins turning even harder from scene one. Full scenes go by without attempts at a laugh. What started out as fun has turned deep, dark and depressing...kind of like a bachelor party.
Tarantino is out, Refn is in. At the start of Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill, it opens with the Klingon Proverb, "Revenge is a dish best served cold." Back in the 90s, Tarantino was leading the genre game in Cannes, winning the Palme d'Or for Pulp Fiction. While he's still making great films today, the next generation has tagged in. In 2011, Nicolas Winding Refn rocked the Croisette with the film Drive and he has returned this year to premiere Only God Forgives. Starring Ryan Gosling again this artsy, slow burn, extremely violent Bangkok-set revenge drama is a dish definitely served cold, with a slice of style and minor substance.
One of the very few full-on science fiction films premiering at the Cannes Film Festival this year is a thriller called The Last Days on Mars, directed by Irish filmmaker Ruairi Robinson making his feature debut after a number of shorts including Blinky™ and Fifty Percent Grey. Set on Mars at the end of a six month manned mission to the planet to search for signs of life, it starts out as an intriguing indie sci-fi with some promise. But alas devolves into something that I hate to say is derivative and brings absolutely nothing new to the sci-fi game, which is a bit unfortunate because it otherwise visually looks great—some concept work was done by Weta, but the rest of the visual effects were made entirely by Screen Scene based out of Ireland.
Ah yes, the Coen Brothers. We all know them. We all love them. They've made some of finest films cinema has to offer. But what if they did something a bit different? Inside Llewyn Davis, while unquestionably a Coen Brothers film, is a breath of fresh air from the filmmaker brothers. It's not as dark or deeply moving as No Country for Old Men, nor is it at overly joyful as Burn After Reading, it falls somewhere inbetween, an engrossing exploration of a musician named Llewyn Davis living in New York in the 1960s. It's a perfect period piece and a dark, but fun, earnest, entertaining film that I thoroughly enjoyed every last second of.
In mid-February of last year I went, by myself, to a screening of Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi's A Separation and fell for it completely, a masterpiece. A month later the film went on to win the Oscar, and Farhadi started working on his next feature, which I knew I had to see. Premiering at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival is Asghar Farhadi's The Past, a French film dealing with a series of complex relationships between two families in Paris. It's further proof that Farhadi is an absolute master of human dynamics, relationships and performances that expertly captures the complex, deep layers that exist between all of us in this world.
This seems to be the year of the exaggerated "American dream" and excess along with it being highlighted in films. Besides Spring Breakers and Pain & Gain, one of the other exposes on excess is the latest film from Sofia Coppola, titled The Bling Ring. I've been anticipating this ever since the first trailers and caught the first premiere of it at the Cannes Film Festival. Unlike Spring Breakers, the film doesn't have any depth, or nuance, or dark humor, it's nothing but a hollow, lightweight portrayal of excess and a group of vacuous teens obsessed with it. Yea, there's fun underage larceny going on but that's about it. There's not much else.
J.J. Abrams' Star Trek universe is one of excitement, adventure, loads of action, the kinds of Summer blockbuster entertainment probably better suited for another sci-fi franchise with "Star" in the title. Don't worry. Abrams will get to that eventually. For now, though, he's determined to inject explosions and shoot-outs into this seemingly scientific mission to explore new worlds. Like its predecessor, Star Trek Into Darkness is one, fine blast of a good time, adding an abundance of laughs to all the excitement, even if the logic on display would make a certain green-blooded somebody break out in an uncomfortable sweat.
On paper, Baz Luhrmann seems the perfect fit for bringing F. Scott Fitzgerald's 'The Great Gatsby' to modern life. The man who put Romeo + Juliet in a gritty LA and burned Paris bright with neon in Moulin Rouge would have an edge up on the gaudy, glitzy gatherings of Mr. Jay Gatsby. To an extent, what's on paper works. Luhrmann's version of The Great Gatsby is often too literal for its own good, choosing narration and Fitzgerald's text as exposition over something subtler. Luhrmann isn't a subtle man, and where his film suffers in adapting the story, it tries desperately to make up for in glamorous execution.
You have to give Marvel credit. They've allowed their franchises, though all taking place in the same, Avengers-centric world, to fall into hands of auteurs, film makers who have something more to say than "Just point and shoot." Though the results have been varied, certain cinematic voices have been allowed to be heard. And so it goes that summer 2013 kicks off with Shane Black's take on Iron Man. Iron Man 3, written and directed by the man who created Lethal Weapon and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, is as entertaining as it is unique, a comic book one-off with a little mystery and a little edge, something Black is all too gifted for.
Michael Bay put away his giant robot toys for a bit and has moved onto something a little more extreme. Namely, giant, human bodybuilders and their "get rich quick" scams. Pain & Gain, his latest, is at one end the action director's most serious, some would say adult, film to date, taking real-life drama and real-life absurdity and going all in to tell this true story as accurately as a Michael Bay film could be. At the other end, that real-life absurdity makes for some serious hilarity, and Pain & Gain, though it suffers from the lesser-appreciated Bay tropes, ends up being a comedy full of adrenaline and jacked to the gills with laughs.
Moral ambiguity ties into a world seemingly devoid of innocence in Ron Morales' Graceland, the latest film acquired and distributed by Drafthouse Films. A tightly-wound kidnapping thriller set in the overly corrupt Philippines, Graceland strikes a spark early on and never seems interested in dousing the flames until all of Morales' characters are burned, even if just a little. The screenplay adds new elements and interesting facets to the familiar sub-genre, and Morales' direction drives the point home even harder. For all that it has to say, Graceland is a bit hard to watch, but its message deserves to be a bitter pill to swallow.
What does "living life to the fullest" really mean? There is an icon, a sports legend, who revolutionized and changed the entire sport he excelled in. He was loved by all, a goofball at heart who lived for the thrill and always kept pushing the limits no matter what that meant. His name was Shane McConkey and he lived a wonderful life, until his tragic demise in 2009 in a skiing BASE jump that went wrong. Collecting years of archival footage, Red Bull, who sponsored the extreme athlete for many years, put together the documentary McConkey chronicling the incredible story of one man who truly lived an exceptional life. It's outstanding.
"Derivative" is the first word that comes to mind when describing Oblivion, the latest sci-fi actioner from Joseph Kosinksi (TRON Legacy, and we all know how that turned out). "Convoluted" has a strong hand here, too, but all of that is screenplay-based. Kosinski's execution is right on, and Oblivion, cliched and overcomplex as it is, strikes a very early, very entertaining summer chord here in 2013. With Tom Cruise, action star extraordinaire, at front and center, Oblivion blasts away before your eyes, keeping your brain occupied so it's not focusing on the flaws. You know, like all good, summer blockbusters do. More below!