A Roundup

Here is a bit of a round up of some of the new films I have watched recently!

DRIVE (2011)
dir. Nicolas Winding Refn

I'm sure you have read and heard many things about this film, so I'm sure I won't have a tremendous amount of new input, but here's my two cents. I loved it! I loved the cinematography, the acting, the story, the pacing, the colours, and especially the music. I didn't love the extremely graphic violence that punctuates the film, but I appreciate why it might be there. And really, it is so over the top that it borders on satire. And it also raises some questions about our level of acceptance of violence. Sadly, some people do horrible things to others. It is just a fact of life, and when people get shot in the head it isn't always a clean little red bullet hole, as Hollywood has trained us to believe. So this film does confront some preconceived notions about movie and real violence. But it's too bad that so many people talk about all that in a film this good. I mean look at how much in this blurb I've talked about it! The real strengths of the film are Ryan Gosling's role as the Driver, the cinematography of Newton Thomas Sigel, and the direction of Refn. Oh, and the supporting cast is phenomenal. And the mating of the soundtrack with the seductive images is truly fantastic. I will see this again! I just need to steel myself for the blood.

dir. George Clooney

How about this Ryan Gosling character? What a year he is having. And he is Canadian, so that is awesome. This is a great drama about the behind the scenes of a presidential primary campaign with Clooney playing the honourable and idealistic candidate Mike Morris vying to win the Democratic nomination. Despite the weight Clooney's name brings to the film, this really is Ryan Gosling's movie, playing Morris' dedicated campaign officer Stephen Meyers. Also present are the both phenomenal Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti, possibly the two best character actors out there. As the title suggests, not all goes smoothly during the campaign as basic human flaws (and deadly sins) such as lust, pride, envy, and wrath, enter from the fray and unravel what seems to be a shoe-in of a campaign. I really enjoyed seeing the behind the scenes of how a political campaign is run, especially in this day of age when we are inundated with reports of corruption and indiscretions (sexual and otherwise) in politics. I also found it interesting (and slightly infuriating--like real politics) that such an idealistic and promising candidate must make compromises in an effort to even get his foot in the door of the White House. No one is as squeaky-clean as we may think they are. Worth seeing!

dir. Bennett Miller

As I posted on this blog earlier, I was sure I would see this despite not really being a Brad Pitt fan or a baseball fan, or really a fan of sports movies, but I was sure I would enjoy it somehow. But I really liked it! And if I may say so, I was right. None of those things mattered to me; neither Pitt, nor baseball, nor sports. The real story was a business one, of trading baseball players like so many trading cards young kids grow up with, or maybe more appropriately as it relates to this story, like rising and falling stocks on the market. Pitt, as Oakland A's GM Billy Beane was good, and there has been buzz about Oscars and yaddayadda, but I think the really interesting character here is Peter Brand, played against type by Jonah Hill. Which is too bad because I felt like he was a little underused! I would have liked to have seen the film based more around Brand. That being said, it was a very well done film! And again, a good supporting cast, included small roles by Robin Wright and Philip Seymour Hoffman (I feel a sort of six-degrees-of-separation thing here), and even a minuscule role for Spike Jonze! I think fans of baseball and Brad Pitt will also really like this, but there is a lot for others to enjoy!

dir. Steven Soderbergh

Soderbergh is a machine. So many of his films are just epic in scale, from TRAFFIC, to the OCEANS 11 series, the CHE films (haven't seen these yet unfortunately), even THE GOOD GERMAN. And he just churns out picture after picture (he was originally going to direct MONEYBALL too! whoa!). Which is also a shame because he claims he is going to retire from filmmaking and focus on painting. And nothing against the painters of the world, but we need Steven Soderbergh to make films! All that being said, ha ha, I was not really that impressed with CONTAGION. I mean, no, let me rephrase that. I was impressed with it, but I wasn’t enamored, and did feel a little empty at the end, but maybe that is my own problem. But there is hardly any emotion in it. There is dread and sadness, but we never really get to know any of the characters enough to really feel for them. In case you don't know, the plot is that there is a massive worldwide outbreak of a terrible virus that kills people, not dissimilar from the whole SARS and H1N1 pandemics. We see many people affected by this event, in different parts of the world, and they all play their different roles in dealing with it. But we never spend enough time with them to establish an emotional link. The closest we come is with the Matt Damon storyline, about a father and daughter who are brought closer together by the deaths of family members, but even this feels quite thin. And as the film progresses and the doctors and scientists try to contain and research and cure the illness, we see it all go by, and then it all ends sort of as you would expect. I guess if you look at it more as a document detailing some of the events and reactions and steps and procedures that would occur in a worldwide pandemic that started to kill millions, it is interesting. But from a human standpoint, I felt pretty far removed. So in the end I didn't feel like I learned anything or was any better off. Maybe I will be more conscious about hand washing and will stay away from open-air meat markets in Asia. But if you really need one reason to see it, it looks fantastic. I've always loved the cinematography of Soderbergh's films, and he often shoots them himself, as in actually holds the camera, which is cool. And I'm sure it was shot on a RED camera, which creates stunning imagery. Wash your hands!

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