29 Days of Romance, Review #28: Carol (2015)

29 Days of Romance, Review #28: Carol (2015)

Carol posterDirected by: Todd Haynes. Starring: Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Sarah Paulson. Runtime: 1h 58 min. Released: November 20, 2015.

I didn’t fall for Carol as many others have. 30 minutes into the film, I decided to check the Metacritic score because I know whenever I don’t like something that’s great, it at least has an 80 on Metacritic (like 127 Hours which has an 82, or Gravity which has a 96). Carol has a 94 on Metacritic! 24 of the 45 critics gave it a perfect score. I just didn’t see what they saw.

The story is about Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara), an aspiring photographer who falls for a married woman, Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett).

The film is set in 1950’s New York and I’ll start there. On Edward Lachman’s 16mm cinematography, this New York is gorgeous and elegant, and we’re transported there convincingly with the help of Todd Haynes’ direction, Sandy Powell’s costume design and Carter Burwell’s score. I can really tell this is immaculately well-made and gorgeous to look at, I just didn’t connect with the characters that much. I love romance but the first half felt hollow to me.

Honestly, it picked up speed when the pair actually take their Christmas road trip to Chicago. The chemistry between Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett picks up, their intimate looks turned into something deeper, and their first kiss is a marvellous moment that took my breath away.

The film portrays Carol’s relationship with her husband Harge Aird (a strong Kyle Chandler) realistically and it’s heartbreaking how that develops. This source of conflict is well-written. The way the film portrays homosexuality in the 1950s feels raw and in the moments when she’s persecuted for it, Cate Blanchett is at her best. It’s an age where the character couldn’t be herself. Carol says, “What use am I if I’m living against my own grain?” This is the best part of the screenplay for me – which is written by Phyllis Nagy, an adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s 1952 novel – and the spot where Carol is her most human. Rooney Mara, too, deserves accolades for her quieter, more subtle performance, and her expressions and glances are where she’s strongest.

Carol, article
Rooney Mara in Carol. (IMDb)

That’s my main issue with Carol, it’s best in subtle moments and I just wanted more than subtlety and more than intimate glances. I did enjoy much of the second half, but the film moves at a snail’s pace. There are phenomenal moments, but I was bored a lot of this. The characters have strong moments, but they’re also dull and I am just bummed I don’t love this. The characters only feel lively when they go to Chicago. I like Sarah Paulson here as Carol’s friend and ex-lover Abby, she’s interesting and felt like a real person before Carol and Therese did.

I do like the aspect of Therese’s photography. The way she captures Carol during Christmas tree shopping is beautiful. It’s intimate and that aspect of her character is cool, and it’s really the only thing I liked here pre-road trip. Inspiring her photography is Dannie McElroy (John Magaro). The film casts everyone well (kudos Laura Rosenthal), and Magaro always seems at home in period films. The way he talks just feels like he grew up in 1950’s New York.

Jake Lacy has little to do as her boyfriend. He calls her “Terry” and no wonder she falls for Carol because when she says “Therese,” it’s like a knife cutting butter. It sounds right. Therese seems like the type, too, to not tell him that she hates being called Terry, sort-of like how I don’t make a big deal of people calling me Dan instead of Daniel. In that way I related to Therese but never really related enough. I respect the filmmaking here and admire the film. It’s a beautiful love story with a perfect ending. I wish I could fall for it like Carol and Therese fall for each other, but I could not.

Score: 60/100

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

wolf of wall streetReleased: December 25, 2013. Directed by: Martin Scorsese. Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie. Runtime: 180 min.

I’m not going to claim that I’m an expert on anything movies just yet, especially not on films by Scorsese – hell, I haven’t even seen “Goodfellas” yet (something I plan on changing this weekend). All I know is this is a freaking awesome film. This is based on the true story of Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), from his rise to a wealthy stockbroker living the high life to his fall involving crime, corruption and the federal government.

Belfort made a lot of his money in the pennystocks after the market crash in 1987, where he started his own company. His commission would be 50%, so even if he had someone invest $10, 000; he would still be getting $5000. At one point, Belfort explains a bit how stockbroking works, and since the writers know most of us aren’t following what he’s saying, he gets to the point, and says all we have to know is it isn’t legal. The fourth wall is broken a lot, which is amusing.

The film is downright hilarious; its type of comedy is dark, oh but it is the funniest film of the year that isn’t primarily a comedy. This is a tale about amoral behaviour, but it’s not as if the crew members are advocates for this kind-of behaviour. They’re compelling characters, either way, and likeable for drug crazed folks. It’s a similar case with “Pain and Gain,” but it’s not like the characters in this film are full-blown psychopaths like in “P&G.” They’re cheating people, but they’re not killing anyone. They’re just greedy and really love money. Belfort is a sex and drug addict who really likes this drug called Ludes, it was around as a sleeping pill, but if you could last fifteen minutes on it without falling asleep, you’d get a wicked high. The characters are hilarious on these ludes, by the way. DiCaprio portrays Belfort to near-perfection, causing heartbreak in the viewers here and there. He has some true power in this role, and it’s compelling when he realizes how he often hurts the people around him.

Jonah Hill plays his best friend Donnie, a man with big pearly whites and a really funny personality. He’s one of those characters that does some stupid stuff, but you still like him a lot even after he does it. The plot follows the trouble Belfort faces and the colourful characters he meets along the way, and it’s so nice to see Ethan Suplee again in a small role. Matthew McConaughey teaches Belfort the ropes of the stockbroking business and how to be a better one – lots of jerking off and lots of cocaine. As you can see, the film can be a bit filthy with all of its sex and drugs – but it’s often sexy. A lot of the sexual acts are over-the-top and therefore just really funny; so if you see it with your parents, you’d be entertained and might feel uncomfortable at the same time. This has spectacular pacing for a film that’s three hours long, and it has some compelling character development. I like the way it shows how money can change a person. The stockbroking game is a crazy life, apparently, but it helps make this film entertaining and great, and my favourite of the year. I really can’t wait to see this again.

Score100/100

Super 8 (2011)

Super 8Super 8

Release Date: June 10, 2011

Director: J.J. Abrams

Stars: Elle Fanning, AJ Michalka, Joel Courtney

Runtime: 112 min

Tagline: It arrives.

Plot: During the summer of 1979, a group of friends witness a train crash and investigate subsequent unexplained events in their small town.

Quick Thoughts review.

– A problem with this one is the expectations of it. A lot of people were expecting pure gold, and the results are a tad sub par. What you get isn’t quite pure gold, but it is somewhere between a fine silver and a fine silver with some dashes of gold. I wasn’t one of those people who had anticipated this, so my low expectations were exceeded

– The finale really isn’t incredible, it’s only pretty good

– The young stars (particularly Joel Courtney and Elle Fanning) and old stars do quite well

– I only liked a select few characters, like Charles, even though he was pretty irritating

– It’s well-cast like The Goonies, but the unlike that film, most the characters aren’t anything special

– There are great homages to 1980s Steven Spielberg – it has elements of E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial and The Goonies. There’s a great sense of 80s nostalgia for the 2011 season. The atmosphere is quite great. There’s fine elements of science fiction and a bit of horror

– There are spikes of poignancy within the character development

– The cinematography is fine

– It’s a pretty awesome science fiction mystery that is quite memorable

75/100

Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

Did you know? “00 dark 30” in military terms means an unspecified time in the early morning hours usually when it is still dark outside, usually said as “oh dark thirty” (according to its IMDb trivia page).

Zero Dark ThirtyZero Dark Thirty

Release Date: January 13, 2012 (wide release)

Director: Kathryn Bigelow

Stars: Jessica Chastain, Joel Edgerton, Kyle Chandler

Runtime: 157 min

Tagline: The greatest manhunt in history

With Zero Dark Thirty, Kathryn Bigelow proves she is one of the best directors in the business. She is especially one of the best directors to direct a war or history drama.

Zero Dark Thirty is a chronicle of the decade-long hunt for al-Qaeda terrorist leader Osama bin Laden after the September 2001 attacks, and his death at the hands of the Navy S.E.A.L. Team 6 in May 2011.

The only main character, Maya (Jessica Chastain), is followed the closest during this film. The beautiful and talented Chastain does an astounding job of portraying her. She really captures the real feelings she would be feeling. The character is a highly ambitious character whose motivations get fueled by deaths of her friends over the years. As they go through a series of leads, they get to Abu Ahmed, said to be Osama’s messenger. While Maya is the main, and practically only (for the most part), protagonist, Osama is most obviously the antagonist, no matter how hidden he may be.

This film depicts the manhunt for bin Laden extremely well. While we, the audience, don’t know what exactly happened, this film gives us a general idea. And boy, is it ever usually enthralling. Especially the last hour, and it makes for one of the best sixty minutes of cinema this year. The first 97 minutes of the feature is a solid introduction of what’s to come. While it may not be entertaining, it is fascinating and I was compelled to listen to what the flick had to say.

This feature is mostly controversial for its disturbing yet oddly compelling and inarguably intense torture scenes. Bigelow’s intention wasn’t to be an advocate for torture, and she isn’t. It is simply an aspect that did happen in the hunt for Osama. Would you give up Osama’s location that easily, if they knew very well who are? A monster that ordered the 9/11 attacks? No, because he is a powerful man whose people will find and kill you. It’s a frightening thing, and one couldn’t necessarily give up that easily. They have to be tortured, no matter how bad that sounds – it’s the honest, unfortunate truth.

The controversy is embedded in the film, but this gripping feature’s purpose is to rouse the spirits of patriots everywhere. Even if you are not American, the 9/11 attacks shook the world, and this is simply a story everyone would enjoy watching unfold. No matter how sensitive the case of something like 9/11, this is an important film depicting, yes, the greatest manhunt in history. While this may not be as magnificent as The Hurt Locker, this is nonetheless a very unique and memorable experience.

In a nutshell: Zero Dark Thirty is an extremely important film that depicts the greatest manhunt ever executed. It also shows us that Osama really isn’t the ultimate winner at Hide’n Go Seek, that’s Waldo. This feature is controversial because of its disturbing torture sequences, but it is necessary to be included in a film such as this. Bigelow’s direction, Mark Boal’s expert writing, its gripping story, its astounding final sixty minutes, and Jessica Chastain’s incredible portrayal of Maya, make it one of the best history dramas of 2012. You did it again Bigelow, I can’t wait to see what you give us next.

88/100

Argo (2012)

Argo

Release Date: October 12, 2012

Director: Ben Affleck

Stars: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, John Goodman

Runtime: 120 min

Tagline: The movie was fake. The mission was real.

Argo is one of the best films of 2012.

Argo tells the story of the Iranian revolution, and hostage situations that were involved with it. On November 4, 1979, the Iranian revolution reached its boiling point, the U.S. Embassy in Tehran was stormed by militants, and Americans were taken hostage. During this revolution, six American citizens manage to escape and find refuge in the home of the Canadian ambassador. It was only a matter of time before the citizens’ cover was blown, or they were rescued. A CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) specialist, Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck), concocted the best bad idea the CIA had to rescue the citizens, and get them out of the country with their lives.

This was a covert operation that wasn’t known to the public eye until the 1990s. The story is amazing, and extremely memorable. This story was back in 1979 and 1980, so it definitely makes for an early 80s atmosphere. It’s nice that this revolution gets revisited, it brings knowledge of something that happened a fairly long time ago. The impact it had on the world at the time seems large, but, apparently, not large enough for me to hear of it in this day and age.

It’s sort of fascinating how Affleck made it feel more like the 80s, and he did it in quite the innovative way: according to IMDb, he shot it on regular film, cut the frames in half and blew those images up to 200% to increase their graininess. The viewer can also tell that they’re in for an older styled atmosphere because of the old Warner Bros logo which was to match the time of the 80s.

I recall seeing this W in the logos, or at least something similar to it.

Ben Affleck’s pure Hollywood acting career may be dust in the wind (or at least starting to feel a bit like that) but his directing career isn’t going South anytime soon. He has a real knack for making great and memorable films.

It’s an extremely thrilling and captivating film experience, and is the most riveting film of 2012 thus far.

There are history and politics thrown in here, but politics only crossed my mind a few times. It feels more like a great CIA rescue mission more than anything else. It’s intense and there’s some great comedy thrown in there. There’s one great joke that gets used a few times, but doesn’t get overused because it’s thrown at you at times you least expect it.

The rescue mission is a great gamble, because Affleck’s character is both risking his life and theirs.

The characters are fine, because they are real and none feel expendable at all. Affleck’s character has a son and a wife; and some of the Americans stuck at the Canadian Ambassador’s house are married. Each actor and actress wonderfully capture emotions of stress, anxiety and intense worry.

One of the most captivating things about Argo is the boiling suspense of the situation, and the viewer can just feel it build throughout. It also really is quite nerve-racking.The pacing is great, and it doesn’t feel slow in a lot of places. There are a lot of memorable scenes, and then others just build up the plot. There aren’t any bad scenes, though, so that’s great. Argo sort of plays out like an assassin giving you his first choke-hold, he’s inexperienced and you may feel the grip loosening from time to time, but then it strengthens again and doesn’t let go until the very end.

Something that annoyed me is the odd time when there wasn’t any subtitles when the Iranians spoke their language (Farsi, maybe?). Still, you can tell the emotions that they are feeling, so I guess it doesn’t matter very much, now that I think it over more.

The use of old footage really interested me some. It worked into the film well and didn’t feel out of place at all.

The film does live up to its hype, and to its trailer. The use of Aerosmith’s song Dream On, was extremely effective and amped it up about ten times as much. I wish they didn’t use some of the film’s best lines in the trailer. Yet again, studios do that a lot. They still were great when I heard them during the film though.

Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, Alan Arkin, Victor Garber, Tate Donovan, Clea DuVall, Scoot McNairy, Rory Cochrane, Christopher Denham, Kerry Bishé, Kyle Chandler, Chris Messina, Zeljko Ivanek and Titus Welliver make up this great cast.

Argo offers an incredible true story, a lot of fine action, and a lot of great suspenseful scenes. It’s one of the most riveting films of 2012, and definitely the most intense. The direction, acting, story, the amount of memorable scenes are all great. It’s such an impressive piece of cinema, and will be a real contender at the Oscars this year.

90/100