Tag Archives: James Gandolfini

2014 Movie Blitz: Part IX

This could be the last blitz before my best of and worst of list for 2014.

St Vincent (2014)

st-vincent-poster-900-1

I was pleasantly surprised by this one. It’s a simple premise we’ve seen countless times — a grumpy old man befriends a youngster, and they each end up learning something profound from the unconventional relationship. But in this case, the superb cast led by Bill Murray, doing what he does best, makes St Vincent a funny, poignant movie that won’t blow you away but will have you feeling all warm and fuzzy inside by the time the credits start rolling.

Murray plays the titular Vincent, a mysterious, reclusive old man with a sharp tongue and sharper attitude. Struggling single mother Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) and her 12-year-old son Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher) move in next door, and Vincent, almost by accident, starts teaching Oliver the ways of life. Naomi Watts plays Vincent’s Russian “lady friend.”

Murray has turned his grumpy, deadpan face down to perfection, and it’s on full display in this film. It’s a shame we don’t see him much in movies these days because the man is a true comedy genius. It was also good to see Melissa McCarthy play a straight character for once and doing it so well. She’s much more than just a stock character — you really feel for her — and she has great chemistry and timing with Murray when they’re engaged in one of their hilarious spats.

I thought Naomi Watts was a bit of A strange casting choice for her character, but apart from that St Vincent ticks all the right boxes for a touching and funny drama parents can enjoy with their kids (I’d say 12 and above).

3.5 stars out of 5

The Drop (2014)

drop_ver5

This is one of those gritty and brooding crime dramas that’s neither forgettable nor particularly memorable. I thought it was pretty decent because of a smart script, confident direction, and strong performances from the brilliant Tom Hardy and the legendary James Gandolfini in one of his final roles.

Basically, the plot revolves around Bob Saginowski (Tom Hardy), a bartender who works a bar run by Gandolfini’s character, Cousin Marv. Marv used to own the establishment but sold it to Chechen gangsters, and now the bar is a “drop” point for illegal funds. Later, a robbery sets the story in motion, and Bob finds himself being targeted by both the cops and the robbers.

Much of the story centres Bob’s relationship with a neighbourhood girl played by Noomi Rapace and a dog. It’s one of those films where you feel as though something is brooding and tension is always building, but you’re not sure of where it is all heading.

The cast is superb, especially Hardy, who is a man of few words but conveys many emotions just from looks and expressions, yet it is often difficult to figure out exactly what is going through his head.

It’s a violent film that doesn’t necessarily shy away from crime drama cliches but is still clever and different enough to distinguish itself from the pack.

3.5 stars out of 5

By the Gun (2014)

by_the_gun

By comparison to the film above, By the Gun is a much weaker and forgettable crime drama. Ben Barnes plays Nick Tortano, a low-level mobster who wants to “be someone.”

So he works under a Boston crime boss played by Harvey Keitel, starts dating his estranged daughter (Leighton Meester) and recklessly gets himself into a lot of shit as he tries to make a name for himself. Something’s gotta give!

I like Ben Barnes. He’s one of the prettiest actors around and he’s a stage actor who can clearly act. But as hard as he tried, he didn’t convince me here as a Boston gangster. Maybe that’s why he’s stuck with roles like Prince Caspian and high-profile flops like Dorian Gray and Seventh Son.

By the Gun has enough grit but not enough originality to sustain its 109-minute running time. I didn’t care much for the characters nor their predicaments, and when that happens a crime drama is destined for failure. It’s not poorly made, it’s just so average that you start to forget about it as soon as the credits roll.

2.5 stars out of 5

Son of a Gun (2014)

Son_Of_A_Gun

So many guns in this movie review blitz! Son of a Gun is a fairly compelling Australian crime drama with similar themes to the masterful Animal Kingdom. It’s not as good, of course, but by Aussie movie standards it’s not bad.

Rising star Brenton Thwaites, who is just everywhere these days, plays JR, a young convict who becomes acquainted with a notorious robber played by Ewan McGregor. Upon his release, JR is introduced to a mob boss, this beginning a life of crime where the stakes continue to be escalated and things spiral out of control before JR realises he is in way over his head.

Like Animal Kingdom, this is a crime drama seen from the point of view of a naive man-child, learning the brutalities of the world with one frightening lesson after another. It’s a twisted coming-of-age story of sorts, filled with thumping violence and rounded characters.

It’s unfair beyond that to compare the two films. Son of a Gun isn’t on the same level in terms of tension, intensity and plot or character development, and it’s much less effective at veering away from genre cliches, especially as the film nears its finale.

What does give it extra brownie points are the performances of McGregor, still one of the most reliable actors around, and rising superstar Alicia Vikander (who has like five movies out this year), who brings more depth than one would expect for a supposed token female love interest. I’m still waiting to see though why Thwaites, as solid as he is, is snapping up so many roles in Hollywood.

On the whole, Son of a Gun struggles to separate itself from similar films in the genre the way Animal Kingdom did, but thanks to the awesomeness of Ewan McGregor and Alicia Vikander, it manages enough appeal to drag it over the line in my books.

3.25 stars out of 5

2013 Movie Blitz: Part V

The movie blitz is back, and there are some interesting new entries.

Nurse 3D (2013)

nurse-3d-movie-poster

Riding high from her star turn in Boardwalk Empire, Paz de la Huerta gets cast in Nurse 3D, a campy horror film where she gets to play Abby, a crazy nurse who seduces her “deserving” victims before killing them. If anything, Nurse 3D knows exactly what kind of film it wants to be — sexy, bloody, gory and campy. The kind of film you scream and laugh to, depending on your disposition.

The poor woman who gets her life turned upside down by Abby is Danni, played by 30 Rocks‘ Katrina Bowden. There’s some sex, plenty of nudity, and no shortage of gruesome kills and bloody aftermaths. There is definitely a market for this kind of film, and for me it’s preferably to other trite attempts such as the Piranha 3D franchise.

Paz de la Huerta certainly has a screen presence, but I really don’t know what to make of her. She has a nice figure, I suppose, one she is not afraid to show off, but she has a weird face. As for her acting, I can’t really tell if she is really good at trying to be bad, making her really good, or just bad.

Anyway, I didn’t hate the movie and found it occasionally fun, which is surprising, but I think you have to have a certain type of taste to be able to embrace it.

2.75 stars out of 5

PS: I watched this in 2D, but I can’t really see why this would be a worthwhile 3D film unless you want blood and boobs popping at your face.

Knights of Badassdom (2013)

knights_of_badassdom_xlg

Knights of Badassdom is for anyone who enjoyed the live action role-playing scenes in Role Models. It’s basically about a bunch of live action role-playing dudes played by an all-star cast including Aussie Ryan Kwanten (from True Blood), Steve Zahn, Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones), Summer Glau (Serenity) and Margarita Levieva (recently seen in Revenge) who bite off more than they can chew when an evil demon is unleashed from the underworld during a major event.

There are lots of nerd jokes, great puns and one-liners, but as is usually the case with such films it’s not quite as funny as you think it should be. That said, there are some solid moments that had me giggling and even laughing out loud. The violence, blood and gore are all intentionally fake and silly, but I suppose you can still call it a “horror.” It should come as no surprise that a flick with a name like Knights of Badassdom is not a good movie. It’s is a complete farce and it knows it, but the problem is that it’s not quite bad enough to be a so-bad-it’s-good type of film. So it’s not very good, but it’s not bad enough to be great. Does that make sense?

Nonetheless, consider all the problems the film went through to get released, it could have been much worse. It had a really troubled production because filming began in 2010 and was in post-production in 2012, but took another year before it was given a limited release. My wife gave up on it after about 2 minutes as she mumbled something along the lines of it being the stupidest thing she had ever seen. But I persevered and had a reasonably good time with it. Not a bad party flick, especially if everyone is drunk or stoned.

3 stars out of 5

Enough Said (2013)

enoughsaid

Enough Said is a nice little romantic comedy that I would never have seen in a million years had it not starred Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Elaine from Seinfeld, aka the greatest TV actress of all time) and James Gandolfini in one of his final roles before his tragic passing.

The film’s premise is simple. A freelance masseuse (Louis-Dreyfus) goes to a party and meets a fellow divorced fellow (Gandolfini) and they start a relationship. But there are some wrinkles to this relationship, wrinkles I can’t discuss without giving part of the plot away. For me, it was pretty foreseeable, but for others it might come as a twist.

The strength of the film lies in the performances from two of the greatest TV actors of their generation, or any generation (plus the likes of Catherine Keener and Toni Collette in her original Aussie accent), and an extremely witty script by Nicole Holofcener, who also directed the film. It’s rare to see a drama that involves mainly people conversing with each other being so engaging. It may be just me, but I noticed a ton of Seinfeld references in there, which I loved, of course, but apart from that the hilarious one-liners just kept rolling out along with the sharp dialogue.

Leaving the humour aside, the drama is also surprisingly warm, insightful and poignant, and dare I say, realistic. There’s nothing about the film that really stands out (it’s not a film you’ll likely remember years down the track), but for me it’s a sweet little gem I’d definitely nominate to people looking for a DVD recommendation.

3.75 stars out of 5

About Time (2013)

abouttime

The poster for About Time almost put me off watching it. A smiling Rachel McAdams and a gingery British fellow (Domhnall Gleeson, whom I had only previously seen in an episode of the brilliant sci-fi series Black Mirror — if you discount the last couple of Harry Potter flicks) standing in the rain. It looked like a romantic-comedy version of The Notebook.

But, as is almost always the case, I was wrong. About Time, in my humble opinion, is probably the best romantic-comedy of 2013. Not that the field is strong, but at least it’s not the worst.

The premise is that Gleeson’s character, Tim, can time travel, like all the other men in his family, including his father (Bill Nighy). He doesn’t develop this ability or find out about it until he’s 21, but once he does, he tries to take full advantage of it. Everyone has different purposes for time travel, be it money or career, but for Tim it’s all about love. And that’s where Rachel McAdams’s character, Mary, comes in.

The bulk of the film is about their romance, as it should be. I mean, come on, who won’t fall for Rachel McAdams? Tim makes good use of his time travelling to woo Mary, but he also discovers that his ability has certain limitations. .

And no, it’s nothing like that other time travel film Rachel McAdams starred in, The Time Traveler’s WifeAbout Time is written and directed by Tony Curtis, who is responsible for penning the scripts for British romantic-comedy classics such as Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, Bridget Jones’s Diary, and Love Actually (which he directed too), as well as Steven Spielberg’s War Horse. So hopefully that gives you an idea of the feel of the film and the type of comedy in it.

It dragged on towards the end of its 123-minute running time, but for the most part I simply adored this film. Not there there isn’t anything to complain about — the time travel rules, for example, don’t make any sense if you think about it, and Tim and Mary’s relationship is far too smooth and lacking in conflict. But I’m willing to overlook all of that because there is a sweetness and tenderness to the film that just warmed me up inside. And it’s not just the romance, but the moving relationships Tim has with his father and his sister (played by Lydia Wilson) also got to me as well. Very few, if any, romantic-comedies resonate with me (the last one was probably 500 Days of Summer), so I’m glad I was fortunate enough to have given About Time a shot.

4 stars out of 5