Off The Radar: Grand Piano (2014)

grand_piano_still_a_lRoze-Rating: 3.5 / 5

Tom Selznick branded as the most talented pianist of his generation returns on stage for a comeback performance after five years of retirement, as a result of nightmare performance that halted his career in an instant. To add to his ongoing nerves, during the opening of his concert he discovers a message on his score sheet stating that he will be killed if he makes a mistake. While playing in front of a large audience, Tom must figure out who has him at gun point and for what reasons.

This isn’t your average thriller as the premise may suggest, and that may be why the film isn’t a complete flop. That being said behind the preconceived premise, the twists and turns that take place may not be as inventive as one hopes. What saves it from becoming a generic thriller is the direction of Eugenio Mira and performance of Elijah Wood, who has relished his freedom lately and taken up a number of low budget projects. Grand Piano is set in one location and is filmed in real time, yet it remains engaging and is rarely dull.

As classical music is, the camera work is elegant in its movement and is reluctant to use the same angles excessively keeping the location fresh but also working hand in hand with the music as a way of expressing the chaos taking place in front of a clueless audience. The cinematography as a whole is a good enough reason to watch this film. The editing is also masterfully utilized on occasions to symbolize violent acts, such as suddenly cutting to the stroke of a bow along a cello’s strings to show what crime had just occurred. Without the sophisticated camera work, Grand Piano would lack the thrills and tension which make the film at times exciting.

Upon doing some research I was surprised to find out that Elijah Wood has limited piano playing abilities and that most of what was filmed was the craft of his hands, and that alone merits praise for his performance. Having to concentrate on his precise hand movements, acting and listening to John Cusack via an earpiece takes some major multitasking skills and it totally succeeded. Despite not seeing much of John Cusack, his voice succeeds in being convincingly menacing.

It is an unusual film but that’s what gives it character, providing quite a pleasantly unique viewing experience. It’s tense when it intends to be and quirky in others, despite underwhelming twists and perhaps a payoff too, it’s a film definitely worth watching as a guide on how to make a low budget film that looks classy and is as intriguing as any other blockbuster thriller; and hey it make even convert you into a classical music enthusiast too.

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Oscars Throwback: No Country For Old Men (2007)

Movies_Movies_N__006313_Roze-Rating: 5 / 5

Llewelyn Moss is a Vietnam veteran living in the desolate lands of Texas. One day during a hunting session, he finds what would be a drug deal gone wrong. Along with dead corpses and a wounded man begging for water, he finds a black satchel with 2 million dollars inside. He takes the money and hides it in his house knowing people are going to be looking for it. His conscious gets the better of him as he wakes up in the middle of the night to bring water to the wounded man, a mistake as he gives vital clues to the one man with no morals when it comes to getting what he wants.

No Country For Old Men is an absolute gem of a film. For me, it ticks all the boxes for a perfect thriller with a wild west edge. As a shallow viewer it has enough suspense, violence and action to enthrall for the full viewing time. Even with its quiet, barren land demeanor. But for the sometimes sophisticated side of my brain, the narrative has enough substance for me to have come out with a much richer experience of the film.

As the title and opening monologue from old timer Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) would suggest, it’s a film about the changing times. How a land which was once relatively safe has now become a harsh environment. Whenever we see the older generation on screen, they seem to be bogged down by unusual information or just odd behavior. A sign which says, times are more complicated and not as straight forward as before. Even for Sheriff Ed Tom Bell, he fails to put the pieces together quick enough to solve the drug deal gone wrong case. This isn’t to say he’s incompetent, he is the opposite, but it says that crime in the modern times are a lot more overwhelming.

The characters are also a great part of this film, the three main characters signify something different. We have the Sheriff who is an obviously good man. He has a loving wife and is also good at his job. Just like the old time’s, he’s laid back and composed but nothing less than a good person. There is the antagonist Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) who is a total psychopath, from the worst hair cut ever in film to his lack of remorse when killing people, he is the bad of the film. Since we are unaware of where he’s from and it’s apparent that he isn’t local, he seems to signify the unpredictability of modern evil and crime, sometimes referred to as a ghost. This may refer to the how the future is and what makes it so unsettling. He has no moral compass but believes in the power of fate, apparent from his coin toss game. As for Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), he is right bang in the middle, as Uncle Ellis refers to some of his cats as half wild or outlaws. Moss is your every man, he’s been through a lot and understands the harshness of life. I like how he looks at the money with no expression and sighs “yeah” as if he already knows what he’s getting into but can’t protest against it. There’s some form of inevitability to it.

This film really is a cat and mouse thriller. Except the mouse is a cat too. Predator vs predator. It’s refreshing because we have characters who aren’t stupid. They’re all intelligent and know how to cover their tracks, they know how to defend themselves and when it comes to doing the deed, they can do it. Just as you think a character is missing something they respond with intelligence. It’s awesome to watch a film where you find it hard to criticize characters decisions but instead be left wondering “why didn’t I think of that”.

As for performances, well you have Javier Bardem in one of his first major English roles and will probably stand as his best for awhile. Think Silva from Skyfall but even crazier. I like that opening scene of him where he’s strangling that cop, just from his facial expressions you can tell that he’s a heartless bastard and it’s not the first time he’s attempted to kill someone. As good as Bardem is, Brolin totally knocks it out of the park for me. There’s something about his portrayal of the character. He’s just so slick and such a guy, a guy we all wish we could be. If I could pull off boots and a cowboy hat, I would, wouldn’t have to think about it, I’d be walking around looking like a total badass. (Brolin) “you got socks”, (Shopkeeper) “We only have white”. (Brolin) “That’s ok, whites all I wear”, that’s what it means to be a man right there. Tommy Lee Jones is business as usual and it was nice seeing some Woody Harrelson as well to make up a really great cast.

This was totally deserving of the Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Javier Bardem) Oscars. A film back in the day that I wouldn’t have wanted to watch, purely because it’s absent of music. Thanks to more appreciation for films, that lack of music only adds to the film, putting us in the west with the characters and surprisingly adding suspense to the films more thrilling scenes. No Country For Old Men is truly a great film.

Runner Runner (2013)

runner-runner-review-photoRoze-Rating: 2.5 / 5

Richie Furst (Justin Timberlake) used to have a job on Wall Street until the economic meltdown forced him out of the business. To make his way back up to a high paying job again, he refers university students to an online gambling website to finance his masters degree. After getting caught and threatened to be kicked out of Princeton, Furst carelessly bets his money away on an online poker site with hopes of gaining enough winnings to pay his tuition fees. He soon discovers that he had been beaten unfairly and goes straight to the source to rectify it, Ivan Block (Ben Affleck).

Runner Runner was probably the longest hour and a half film that I’ve sat through this year, which says a lot. It’s disappointing as the film has a promising premise. The opening initially set up the potential for a decent flick but its intelligent characters ultimately didn’t fit in with the shallow narrative.

The film could have been genuinely thrilling as it had the ingredients for an explosive thriller. It had interesting characters and an uncommon premise. But the film feels bland as it has no particular direction or form of development. Ultimately it’s a film telling a series of events. What it needed was more emphasis on Richie and even Rebecca (Gemma Arterton), as the film covers the themes of greed and entrapment within the criminal world. They grow as characters but Runner Runner doesn’t even explore these themes or even the development of these characters. In the end we don’t really know who Richie is.

He’s obviously attracted by the prospect of high finance and because of that he doesn’t do the most ethical things. Although he believes in fair gaming in the business sense and is also a business wiz, yet we see him partake in immoral forms of business negotiations. There’s contradictions in his values because of money. So I was expecting some form of change from his character once sh*t got real, but only until he sees his life in danger does he change, but that’s a totally meaningless reason. The only meaningful moment in the film is when Richie’s dad tells him to leave him behind since he’s been a “dead man walking for 15 years”. That is the only defining moment where Richie realizes greed’s negative effect. But by that time, it’s way too late.

The only positive within this film is Gemma Arterton (duuh) and the locations. Both are stunning and sun kissed. The cinematography is colourful and glossy which make’s Runner Runner easy on the eyes. That being said we should have seen more of Arterton, not because she wears those dresses flawlessly (probably accounts for quarter of my rating) but because I think her character could have had a bigger impact on the story. Though it still would have taken more to improve this flick.

The East (2013)

The-EastRoze-Rating: 4 / 5

Sarah Moss (Brit Marling), former FBI agent, starts her new career at an intelligence agency forcing her to go undercover and collect information from anarchist group The East. All members of the group carry aggression against massive corporations that harm the environment around them. Determined to make an example of their careless actions they plan a number of “jams” to expose their true contributions to the world. During her undercover work Sarah grows attached to the groups cause, although disagreeing with their methods. 

The East is as much a political thriller as it is a study of humans in modern society. Throughout the film we contemplate who the bad guys are, who we should root for and our way of life. We are presented with two sides, self righteous anarchist group The East with good intentions but questionable actions and the corporations who on the surface look like they want to aid the world but ultimately want to help themselves. At first one side seems the obvious bad guy as they are branded as terrorists but once we get to know them as individuals and their reasons we question the word terrorist. They may not do anything drastic as all they want to do is give the corporations a taste of their own medicine (LOL) but eventually the seeming leader of the group (Alexander Skarsgard) gets too deep into the cause. 

It may not be as thrilling as you’d like it to be but it does hold some thought provoking questions backed up with fascinating scenes exposing an idealistic view of human life. For that reason this film is an enticing watch. One scene that got to me was a quite freaky but weirdly beautiful scene of the group eating at dinner, once you see it you’ll understand. The film holds an eerie tone from the ghostly score to the bleak cinematography. It looks and sounds fitting to its premise and message giving these scenes of human nature more than it appears. 

It really is a film of moral high ground, leaving it to us to make our own choice about who takes that place at the top. Although towards the end it may have chosen for us. I felt it had too much of a Hollywood ending; it just didn’t fit the ambiguity of the film. Nevertheless the themes of human nature, relationships and politics make it an enjoyable film.

Despite having to strain my ears to understand some of the actors, the performances were solid. I felt there was too much mumbling and not enough projection in their speech but maybe I’m going deaf from all these loud action films nowadays. Anyways kudos to Brit Marling, previously saw her in Arbitrage playing a minor role. After researching more about her I learnt that this is her third written project, previous projects being Another Earth and Boxers & Ballerinas, which brings me to the assumption that she is massively talented. I’ve not seen all of her films but I look forward to it as she’s done a great job acting but also co-writing this film. She’s more than eye candy but someone with real potential in both the written and acting side of film. Her character has substance, she has a hard exterior but sees arrogance as a weakness; I like how she was branded as perhaps “not soft enough” for The East. In the end that balance gives her a greater moral conclusion to the problems expressed. I’d also like to see Toby Kebbell in more things, loved him in Rock’n’Rolla.

If you liked The International (Clive Owen) but thought it was too out there, then this film will bring you back to earth and maybe even further. 

Off The Radar: The Cabin in the Woods (2012)

CW-0089_DF-02291

Roze-Rating: 5 / 5

It’s everything a film should be, it’s fun, scary and the right amount of freaky. In terms of total theater experience Cabin in the Woods is the perfect example of how to execute that without taking itself too seriously. It is no exaggeration when I say that you will experience so many emotions just in the hour and a half run time. You’ll feel suspense, fear, laughter, disgust and maybe the odd “WTF?”. On the surface it feels and looks like a typical horror flick. There’s even the cliched group of characters you so often get in these type of films. We have the jock, the nerd, the party girl, the stoner and of course the black guy. But when we are introduced to them, we know something is off as they are all academic and actually care about their studies… whaaaat? Yes on the surface they look cliched but that first introduction to their intellectual personalities is what makes us care for them so much (you’ll see). As the movie progresses we get a real sense of the satirical approach to these characters and the genre in general which makes it hilarious but opens our eyes to the “logic” we so often see in these films.

What makes this film so special is it’s unpredictability. I mean if you judge a book by its cover then you probably wouldn’t think that with this film, even the film title is cliched. My advice when watching it is to have an open mind and enjoy the chaos. This is honestly the best horror flick I’ve seen and will be in my best films of all time list. It’s about time we got a truly innovative, fun movie. Mainstream film makers should strive to produce pieces of gold like Cabin in the Woods. If you’re still not interested in seeing this film, I have one word for you… “Merman”.

Gravity (2013)

GravityRoze-Rating: 5 / 5

A group of astronauts are sent out on a seemingly routine space expedition until mayhem ensues. Mission control warns the space crew that a Russian missile strike has just destroyed a satellite causing a chain reaction of debris to head in their direction. Before they can evacuate, the debris destroys their space ship, leaving only Dr. Ryan Stone and Matt Kowalski as the sole survivors.

Alfonso Cuaron returns to mainstream film making with this groundbreaking Sci-Fi thriller, avoiding fantastical space adventures and bringing us a terrifying film about the true dangers of space. As far as how factual the film is, it must be the most realistic space film we have had in a long time as we are captivated by zero-gravity and breathtaking imagery. Gravity finally brings us a film where there is no noise in space, and surprisingly it’s a hell of a lot more scarier than having your ears ravaged by loud explosions. Not having that ability of anticipating danger around you and losing that sense makes you more vulnerable than you would think. Seeing that on screen really gets your heart pumping.

Gravity has really pushed the bar for technology in film, that alone has made the film what it is, a special effects triumph. The attention to detail is commendable and would make any real life astronaut less prone to ripping their eyes out during viewing. I don’t know how they did it but I want to know very badly as you get a real sense of that zero gravity and how frustrating it would be floating around up there; cool at first but when disaster strikes, it’s less than ideal. Ultimately that’s what makes Gravity so riveting, it’s realism makes space expedition scary even if the possibilities of the events depicted are very low and that’s why we can’t take our eyes off the screen.

Beneath the engaging visuals and thrilling action sequences is quite an emotional narrative. The film explores the themes of getting through a series of bad situations and the rebirth of our protagonist Dr. Ryan Stone. With the constant orbit of debris, disaster will strike multiple times if you happen to be in the line of fire. Throughout the film we’re wondering if Stone will make it or even have the desire to carry on as we learn of her hardships on earth. There is an important scene where we see Dr. Ryan Stone curled up resembling a fetus in a womb, there on we’re given the impression that there’s an emotional growth to come.

As for performances they were brilliant with added emphasis on Sandra Bullock. Thinking about it, these role’s must be what most actors dream about. Firstly it’s a freaking space film, secondly it’s totally groundbreaking and thirdly you get to wear a space suit. By landing this role Bullock has really shown us what she’s made of, steering away from comedies and doing something a lot more thrilling. I hope she continues making films like this.

Gravity will definitely be getting some awards during award season and rightfully so as this is probably the best film I’ve seen all year. I’m a total sucker for a good thriller with awesome special effects. If you’re into sweating involuntarily throughout a film then Gravity is for you.

Elysium (2013)

Elysium-2

Roze-Rating: 3.5 / 5

Niell Blomkamp returns with his second directorial and written feature film continuing on with the science-fiction genre he is so fond of. Elysium is set in the year of 2154, where the world has become vastly overpopulated and the overall economic condition has diminished. The poor are left to live on earth while the rich are free to live on Elysium, an artificial planet just off earth. Max Da Costa (Matt Damon) is our protagonist, committed to leaving the criminal lifestyle he once had. Holding a solid job at Armadyne Corp, he is exposed to a lethal dose of radiation forcing him back with his old criminal pals in order to live. Only way to do that is to break into Elysium.

There’s one thing that Elysium will give you and that is an eyegasm. The overall design for this film is amazing, you feel as if your in an apocalyptic world on earth with its shanty town aesthetics and Elysium truly looks like a vista of vivid green vegetation, still lakes and luxury houses. You can tell the design team had a great time during the production of the film. from the start I had an impression that it couldn’t go wrong since it looked so great and sci-fi is typically fun. But for such a profound topic of high classes taking extreme measures just to get away from the poor, it was nothing more than a mash up of Minority Report and District 9. The premise was interesting but it was executed with a cliched plot and storyline.

Elysium is a shallow sibling to District 9, it has the perfect visuals but a weak script. For a sci-fi action film this will satisfy a lot of audiences looking for a fun flick. It has the action, love interest and a showdown fight, it kind of plays like a video game in that respect. In terms of the story that’s all that can be said about it, it’s nothing we haven’t seen before. The protagonist has a few days to live, in order to live he needs to get somewhere with a cure, along the way there are people out to kill him but once realizing the bigger picture of the results of his predicament, Spock comes to mind, “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few”.

In honesty I enjoyed the action. There are a few cool gadgets used making the scenes a lot more interesting, and in the end gave it that extra bit of appeal. Although there are a few off putting aspects such as the facial reconstruction scene, the machine claims that a mans brain is still somewhat functioning despite a grenade explosion to the face. It’s unrealistic but the scene itself is pretty cool so I can let that go. What I can’t let go is Jodie Foster’s accent. That has to go down as probably the worst accent ever in film. It was as if she couldn’t decide how she wanted her character to talk as her accent was inconsistent throughout the whole film. She sounds like a hybrid of American, English and South African combined, it’s annoying but totally amusing.

As for performances Matt Damon does his thing, it was good seeing him in an action role again bringing back my desires for a Jason Bourne return (needs to happen). Alice Braga is growing on me as she’s now starred in three pretty decent futristic/post-apocalyptic films in Repo-Men, I Am Legend and now Elysium. She has a knack for these roles and fits them. Despite Jodie Foster’s crappy accent, her intimidating aura is weirdly sexy which is quite an achievement at 51 and still looking great. Lastly Sharlto Copley puts in another great performance for Niell Blomkamp. I’m really hoping to see more from him in the near future as he’s simply awesome, he plays the creepy card just as well as the badass card.