Contagion – A Review by Film Nerd

Director: Steven Soderbergh

Cast: Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Gwyneth Paltrow, Marion Collitard, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law

Synopsis:   Starting the day after a viral pandemic has begun spreading globally, this film details the human response to such a threat.   Matt Damon plays the family man who very early on in the film loses both his wife and son to the infection, and as a response will do anything to protect his remaining child.   Meanwhile we also follow the researchers trying to identify a cure, as well as those trying to track the virus back to its origin.   Unfortunately, the uglier side of humanity is on display, including selfishness, and the opportunities for some to profit from this fear.

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True Grit (2010) – A Review by Film Nerd

Directors: Joel Cohen, Ethan Coen

Cast: Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Hailee Steinfeld, Josh Brolin

Synopsis: Based on a novel by Charles Portis, this film is the story of 14-year-old Mattie Ross (Stenifeld), who seeks to track down the murderer of her father, Tom Chaney (Brolin), and have justice be done upon him.   She sets off alone to hire “Rooster” Cogburn, a Marshall that is known to have “true grit”.   Cogburn refuses to have her along on the hunt, but Mattie has a way od getting her own way.   They are joined and aided by Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Damon), whom also seeks Chaney for a different crime.

Though sharing a name and basic plot with the John Wayne vehicle that won him his only Oscar, all reports indicate that this is a very different beast.   Having never seen this original film, nor read the source novel by Charles Portis, my research (courtesy of the Australian Empire magazine) informs me that this remake takes some of the focus off of Rooster Cogburn, and, like the novel, focusses more on Mattie Ross.   From a purely cinematic stand-point, I can comment that this was a wise choice, as Mattie’s story is what drives the entire plot.

In many ways, Steinfeld is the lead actor in this film, and impressive position for a young girl to be in, given the calibre of her directors, as well as the calibre of her co-stars.   She holds herself well next to all of them, and as a result we have a slightly subversive Western film that very much feels very much like a Coen film.   Steinfeld is superb, and watching the performance it is immediately clear why she received so many accolades for this role.   She is strong, determined, and walks a fine line with the character the avoids it from swinging into the slightly precocious realm, a mistake many child actors seem to make (are you listening Jake Lloyd??).

In reality, Bridges and Damon both have to work to make their characters memorable in comparison, and they both succeed.   Bridges is a truly fine actor, with a wide range that is sadly only now being recognised.   His character is grizzled and confident, yet flawed.   When these flaws are highlighted, Bridges performance of bravado to hide his insecurities is perfectly balanced, both embarrassing and heart-breaking, without compromising the hard-edged Marshall that had been established earlier in the film.   Damon’s LaBoeuf is perhaps more clearly flawed and insecure, a good role to see Damon play again after the strength of his performance in his Bourne movies.   He also maintains a fine balance, showing his character to be honourable despite his flaws.

I am now curious to read the novel that crafted such a wonderful story, as I am just as curious o see how that material was altered for the Wayne version of the story.   A western that entertains me is a rare beast, and as such, seeing this one has succeeded where many other have failed for me, I am curious to examine the film’s history to further appreciate the nuances that have made such a difference in this case.

4 stars out of 5

True Grit on IMDB

True Grit on Rotten Tomatoes

Trailer [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CUiCu-zuAgM&ob=av3e]

The Adjustment Bureau – A Review by Film Nerd

Director:  George Nolfi

Cast: Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Terence Stamp, John Slattery, Anthony Mackie, Jon Stewart, Michael Kelly

Synopsis: David Norris is a young political contender with a bright future.   He has a chance meeting with ballet dancer Elise, a woman whom he becomes infatuated with and thinks he will never meet again until another chance encounter on a bus.   At this point however, the Adjustment Bureau, otherwise akin to agents of fate step in.   This romance is not according to “the plan”, and if they end up together, both their futures may not be quite as bright.   Based on a novel by Philip K. Dick.

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Upcoming Genre Films for 2011 Part Deux – A Preview by Film Nerd

First of all thanks to Urban Fantasist for that awesome post.   Consider my appetite whetted.   As you referred to yourself though, there are certain tastes of mine that were not catered to, so here is a preview of 2011 from the perspective of someone who collected comics in high school.

I will be using the same list as Urban Fantasist from io9, but I will extend from there a little bit from a post by blastr featuring the top 55 trailers for films coming out in 2011.   I will of course avoid overlap between these lists.

The Green Hornet (io9, blastr)     January 14

A remake of the series that first captured hearts on radio serials then on television, featuring a rich guy turned vigilante.   The character was created by the guy who brought us The Lone Ranger, and at one point in the radio series it was indicated that the Hornet is descendant of the Ranger.   Directed by Michael Gondry of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind fame, it could prove interesting.

I Am Number Four (io9, blastr)     February 18

A group of nine aliens hiding out as teenagers on Earth are hunted down for extermination by the government.   With three down, this film follows the story of the fourth to be targeted.    Based on a novel of the same name.

The Adjustment Bureau (io9, blastr)     March 4

Matt Damon plays a congressman destined for big things, before he meets and falls for Emily Blunt’s ballerina.   He was supposed to never meet her again, but somehow does, and falls in love with her.   The mysterious agency of the title steps in to prevent the relationship, and put our heroes life back on the set path.   Escaping, running, and hiding ensues….

Battle: Los Angeles (io9, blastr)     March 11

Gritty war film with hand-held camera work with visceral closeups, etc.   Oh yeah, and humans are fighting aliens.   Sounds like a great big B-movie, but with a cast headlined by Aaron Eckhart, may prove a hidden gem.

Red Riding Hood (io9, blastr)     March 11

Amanda Seyfried and Gary Oldman star in this retelling of the classic tale, with the wolf recast as a werewolf connected the past of she with the hood.   Don’t know how Urban Fantasist missed that one, sounds like her cup of tea!!

Paul (io9, blastr)     March 18

Comedy starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, as two mates on an American road trip that meet foul mouth alien Paul, voiced by Seth Rogen.   Some of the gags on the trailer are foul, but delightfully so!!

Sucker Punch (io9, blastr)     March 25

A film by Zack Snyder, who previously brought us 300 and Watchmen.   He does have a talent for absolute visual splendour on-screen, and the trailers indicate this will be no different.   It is hard to get a grasp on what it is about, but seems to be the story of five girls attempting to escape the clutches of evil authority in a mental asylum…or is it a war zone???   Or a bordello??

Super (io9, blastr)     April 1

Okay, so the concept of this sounds very similar to Kick-Ass… average bloke dons a costume to fight crime.   So lacking in originality on that count perhaps.   Just watch the clip posted on blastr though and I dare you not to show some interest!!

Hanna (blastr only) April 8

Eric Bana’s ex-CIA agent trains daughter Saoirse Ronin to be the perfect assassin, with the goal to target Cate Blanchett.    A lot of talent there in that sentence, and a pretty cool concept to boot.    The trailer also kicks butt!!

Your Highness (io9, blastr) April 8

Danny McBride and James Franco reteam with the director of Pineapple Express to star as royal brothers on a rescue mission… a comedy that drags Natalie Portman and my favourite Zooey Deschanel along for the ride.   I am still giggling at the trailer… “What a coincidence, I was just about to finish thinking of you!!”   Hehe.

Thor (io9, blastr)     May 6

The Norse god is exiled to Earth, as reimagined by Marvel Comics.   Mjolnir was spotted after the credits to Iron Man 2, resulting in my second Nerdgasm for that film.   Those that don’t know that this is part of building towards Joss Whedon’s The Avengers should be stripped of their geek badge immediately!!

X-Men: First Class (io9 only)     June 3

The second Marvel movie for 2011.   With James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender and January Jones on board, and Kick-Ass’ Michael Vaughn directing, can we put the travesty of X-Men: The Last Stand behind us???

Green Lantern (io9, bkastr)     June 17

A film based on a DC universe second tier hero.   Ryan Reynolds is good casting, but the CGI costume is still a little off-putting for me.   However, has the potential to be the next Iron Man, whom was one of Marvel’s second tier heroes.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part Two (io9, blastr)     July 15

You really want a synopsis for this one?

Captain America: The First Avenger (io9 only)     July 22

The source of my first Nerdgasm in Iron Man 2 was spotting Captain America’s shield partially constructed in Tony Stark’s work room.   Like Thor, this is building to Whedon’s The Avengers, and has Chris Evans donning the tights in what can only be called great casting!

Cowboys and Aliens (io9, blastr)     July 29

James Bond and Indiana Jones!!   The old west!!   Aliens!!    Daniel Craig waits from unconsciousness with a strange device on his arm.   Harrison Ford plays the villain of the piece, that teams with Craig when the bigger threat arrives.   Why didn’t they think of this earlier???

The Thing (io9 only)     October 14

Prequel to John Carpenter’s iconic original.   Stars Joel Edgerton, and personal favourite Mary Elizabeth Winstead, last seen in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.

Sherlock Holmes 2 (io9, blastr)     December 16

Downey Jr. and Law return to 221B Baker Street, this time to face the infamous Professor Moriarty.   Be warned, blastr screwed up, the trailer from the first film, not the first trailer for the second!!

The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn (io9 only) December 23

Steven Spielberg directs his first fully motion capture film.   Peter Jackson produces.   They will be swapping roles for the sequel!!   Stars Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost.   Some writing was even done by Doctor Who‘s Steven Moffatt!! Add that element of retro charm and I am sold!

Man, that is a lot of movies…. I hope Bride of Film Nerd doesn’t kill me when we need a second mortgage!!

 

School Ties – A Review by Film Nerd

Director: Robert Mandel

Cast: Brendan Fraser, Matt Damon, Chris O’Donnell, Ben Affleck

Synopsis: David Greene (Fraser) has received a place in a prestigious high school due to the fact his skills as a quarterback can revive the school’s sporting glories.   Given the period setting however, it is recommended to him to keep his Jewish Heritage a secret.   His popularity within th school is widespread, while making an enemy of Charlie Dillon (Damon), who was supposed to take the quarterback position.   Fate would have it that Dillon learns Greene’s secret.

A review by Film Nerd.

Every time I revisit this film, the impact of it never diminishes.   These are all very early lead performances from Fraser, Damon, and O’Donnell, but each showed a talent that exceeded their years at this time.   In addition, you have a classic but all too recognisable story, of seeking acceptance within a different culture, and the choices made to gain this acceptance.

For Greene, he opts to hide his background.   The script is intelligent enough to make this not just an obvious decision.   Greene struggles with this, trying to still observe cultural rites in privacy, at times having to make choices between his culture (religious observance) and the culture he has been introduced to in this Ivy League sighted school (football and success).   In the end, it is the school that is made to appear more ridiculous, with misplaced priorities (to be the first in five generations of a family not to get into Princeton is a failure).   The film realistically portrays the [pressures on each of its protagonists, and makes the audience reflect on how they themselves rate success.

As alluded to before, the performances are uniformly brilliant.   Fraser is clearly believable in the role of popular quarterback, earning the trust of his colleagues prior to the truth being revealed.   He has shown on many more occasions how brilliant he is at comedy compared to his dramatic roles, yet this is one of those roles that it is clear he is equally adept at both.He is young, and he is a hot head, but his decisions are all made on moral grounds, and as such is clearly the better of all his colleagues.    Damon here also gives one of those performances that first shot him into the A-List.   You put this film alongside Good Will Hunting and Courage Under Fire, it really is quite a trifecta.   Though his character does become the villain of the piece, it is a well-played character arc that moves from admiration, to jealousy, to vengeance.    Dillon is not a likeable character, but nor should he be, emphasising how well Damon plays it.   Mention should also go to O’Donnell, who plays Greene’s room-mate.   He perhaps plays the most conflicted character when he learns Greene is a Jew.    He is clear-sighted enough to see that the fact did not change the person, yet this was in contradiction to the prejudice with which he had been raised.  Perhaps the role treads very closely to the character O’Donnell played in Scent of a Woman, but it is a good reminder of the pedigree he is capable of, especially in the face of the debacle that was the Schumacher Batman films.

If you have seen the film before, I urge yo to revisit it, as it is an understated but genuine masterpiece.   If you have not, and you consider yourself a movie fan, do yourself a favour and repair this oversight!!

4 stars out of 5

 

School Ties on IMDB

School Ties on Rotten Tomatoes

Trailer [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x85u5hIiMus]

 

Dogma – Alan Rickman Week

Director: Kevin Smith

Cast: Linda Fiorentino, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Alan Rickman, Chris Rock, Jason Lee, Jason Mewes, Kevin Smith, Salma Hayek, Alanis Morissette

Synopsis: The Catholic Church is looking to revamp its image, instituting an event permitting the forgiveness of all sins.   Two angels exiled from heaven take this as an opportunity to be forgiven and re-enter heaven.   However, if they succeed, it will make the demands of God void, and as such spell the end of all existence.

A review by Film Nerd.

At the time of its release, Dogma was considered a very controversial film… a comedy about Catholic Faith which represents the clergy as exceedingly foolish.   To those that took this perception, though essentially being very accurate, have missed an even deeper message that this film is trying to convey.

This is the fourth film in Kevin Smith’s View Askew production series, that began with Clerks, Mallrats, and Chasing Amy, and that was followed by Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back and Clerks II.   Aside from Smith directing, and many of the lead cast returning from various films in each of these to play different roles, the one clear connective thread in this series are Jay and Silent Bob, here cast as “prophets” to help guide Fiorentino’s Bethany on her heaven-sent quest to prevent two exiled angels, Bartleby (Affleck) and Loki (Damon), once again gaining access to heaven and ending existence.

The plot sounds pretty heavy, but it is shot in the same tone as the other comedy’s in this series, with big ideas conveyed with buffoonery and a great sense of fun.   Bethany is the straight guy in the proceedings, surrounded by absurd characters.   She receives the quest from the Metatron, the angel that acts as the voice of God, and delivered in Rickman’s unique tones.   He is a character full of sarcasm, especially as he is not permitted to imbibe alcohol after Bartleby and Loki’s drinking antics that got them expelled from heaven initially.   Jay and Silent Bob have already been mentioned, and are no different from any of their other outings, so fans of that schtick, like myself, can sit back and enjoy.   Chris Rock is as ever brilliant, playing the thirteenth disciple, the one that was never mentioned in the bible because he was black.   For me the real surprise of this film when I first saw it was Affleck and Damon.   The shine had started to wear off of their run post-Good Will Hunting, but here they do show the depths they have to offer, Affleck included, putting the viewer in the position of wishing to see them defeated, but also completely understanding why they are willing to go to such lengths.

If easily offended, especially in matters of faith, it is nor worth your time seeing this through, given that it is very irreverent.   If you are curious on another perspective on faith, however, this film has something for you.   As in the end, this film is actually not against people having a system of Faith, the source of its satire being more specifically organised religion.   So of course the Catholic clergy would be concerned about their patrons viewing it…

4 stars (out of a possible 5)

Dogma on IMDB

Dogma on Rotten Tomatoes

Trailer [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=20CRw3XdETA]

Courage Under Fire (1996)

Director: Edward Zwick

Cast: Denzel Washington, Meg Ryan, Lou Diamond Phillips, Matt Damon

Synopsis: Nat Sterling (Washington) is a Gulf War veteran who is assigned to investigate applications for the recipients of the Medal of Honour.   His assignment however is a political hotbed given that he is looking into the story of Captain Karen Walden (Ryan), the first woman to be nominated for the honour, who was killed in combat protecting her chopper crew.   While on the case, Sterling faces his own demons as a result of his own actions in the war.

A review by Film Nerd.

This film, unlike a lot of Zwick films, is not specifically covering a certain event in history.   However, it is a very powerful fictional story about personality conflict, and how people respond under a great deal of pressure.   To say much more than I have already listed in the synopsis is difficult, given it covers a mystery of many layers.   What appears at first to be an open and shut case of bravery enters some very grey areas.   It is by no means an uplifting film, but it is certainly one to make you reflect.

The mystery is the key to this film, and unfortunately it does get quite complex.   There is a very Rashomon element to it, with the same story being told from a number of different perspectives, each time telling an entirely different truth.   As such, a great deal of focus is required throughout.   Don’t be concerned if you lose the thread though.   I did on my first viewing, and yet the impact of the truth when it is finally revealed resonates.   Indeed, this was the first Zwick film I ever saw, and it was the impetus for me to seek out his filmography, particularly is other collaboration with Washington (Glory, to be reviewed tomorrow).

This is not a film of many likeable characters.  Even our protagonist is fraying at the edges, slipping into alcohol, neglecting his family, unable to forget that his actions resulted in the death of his best friend in a war zone.   The performances however are powerful, and keep you watching.   This was made in a period where every performance from Washington was pure gold.   The bit players are also great.   Phillips in his film roles can be hit and miss, but here he is paired with a director that makes his performance memorable.   Also, though not the first major role for Damon (he had already appeared with Brendan Fraser in School Ties), it was a film which confirmed his talent and aided him to greater things.   The true stand out is Meg Ryan.   She truly plays against type as the cussing, hard-boiled Captain Walden.   Before this film, I had no idea there was more to the traditional rom-com darling.

This is not a film for every audience, and the pace can be laborious at parts.  It especially doesn’t help that shifting time frames can confuse the details of the story.   But if you have the patience to ride it out, it is well worth it.   It might just start you hunting down some of the other Zwick titles.

3 stars (out of a possible 5)

Courage Under Fire on IMDB

Courage Under Fire on Rotten Tomatoes

Trailer [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ZQE49MjyYQ]