Friday, 25 November 2016

The Movies Of Minnie Driver

All movies starring Minnie Driver and reviewed on the Ace Black Blog are linked below:

GoldenEye (1995)

Sleepers (1996)

Grosse Pointe Blank (1997)

Good Will Hunting (1997)

Barney's Version (2010)

I Give It A Year (2013)

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.
The Index of Movie Stars is here.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Movie Review: Wild (2014)

One woman's literal and figurative journey to painful self-discovery, Wild is an exquisitely constructed drama, capturing the heart and intellect of a struggle to re-calibrate a life gone astray.

Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) places her life on hold and embarks on a solo hike of the Pacific Crest Trail, a 1,000 mile journey from the deserts of California to the Oregon rain forest. Along the way, she confronts her demons, seen in flashback snippets. Cheryl and her brother Leif were raised by their mother Bobbi (Laura Dern), a victim of spousal abuse who had little to offer her children except plenty of love, nurturing and a sunny disposition. Cheryl marries Paul (Thomas Sadoski), but the marriage has fallen apart after she descended into a life of drugs and random sex with strangers. Along the trail Cheryl has brief encounters with a variety of other locals and strangers, some funny and others scary, and pushes through the pain barrier and her own fears and inexperience, seeking to come to terms with her life.

Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée and written by Nick Hornby, Wild is an adaptation of Cheryl Straid's best-selling non-fiction book describing her 1995 hike. The film starts at the Mojave Desert trail head in southern California and ends 94 days later at the border between Oregon and Washington. And while there are plenty of on-trail experiences as the over-equipped but under-trained Cheryl grapples with what it means to live rough day and night, the important events are taking place in her head. Vallée and Hornby shine in opening up Cheryl's psyche, revealing her memories, thoughts, self-doubt and self-castigation through flashback fragments that slowly coalesce to create a picture of a life in need of a serious intervention.

Unlike the intolerably self-indulgent Elizabeth Gilbert in the saccharine Eat Pray Love, Cheryl knows she has messed up in the worst possible way. Her sex and drug addictions have destroyed her marriage and her remaining friends are pleading with her to get a grip. She embarks on the trail to find out what happened to the girl raised by Bobbi on nothing but love and optimism. The answers are not easy, but the film offers up moments of genuine and emotional discovery, driven by little surprises of achievement, fear and anxiety on the hiking trail.

Cheryl meets a gruff farmer who could have been menacing but who proves that looks and first impressions can be deceiving. Other encounters with an initially naked man, another solo woman, and a group of young men are just as enlightening. She encounters hunters who must be descendants of the Deliverance natives, and overcomes jagged rocks, exhaustion, dehydration, ill-fitting hiking boots and deep snow. She is happily stunned to learn that she has outlasted much more experienced hikers on the trail. All the while the memories are churning, the forces that defined her life become clear, and a path to salvation is charted.

Reese Witherspoon delivers a raw, honest performance, finding Cheryl's trauma and staying true to the reality of a woman stoically charting a new course in the company of herself. Laura Dern has a relatively short but pivotal role as her mother Bobbi. With a free and airy performance, Dern conveys what it means to be a perpetual idealist in the service of her children. Both women received Academy Award nominations.

Wild ends with unnecessary and rushed narration that appears too eager to package up Cheryl's story in a neat box. It's an unfortunate tone to conclude her adventure on, because Wild is about the universal human instinct to strike out in anger, in depression and in a mad search for recovery. Good or bad, wild instincts contribute to life, but rarely in an orderly manner.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Monday, 21 November 2016

The Movies Of Holly Hunter

All movies starring Holly Hunter and reviewed on the Ace Black Blog are linked below:

Raising Arizona (1987)

Broadcast News (1987)

Always (1989)

The Firm (1993)

O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)

The Big Sick (2017)

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.
The Index of Movie Stars is here.

Friday, 18 November 2016

Movie Review: Hacksaw Ridge (2016)

A war epic based on a true story, Hacksaw Ridge is the stunning story of a conscientious objector who stuck to his principles and found his purpose on a tortuous field of battle.

With World War Two rumbling to a start, Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) from rural Virginia enlists in the Army. Desmond grew up to despise violence, having been raised in a strictly religious family dominated by his father Tom (Hugo Weaving), a drunk, abusive and emotionally damaged World War One veteran. Desmond refuses to carry a weapon, and wants to serve his country as a medic. His anti-violence stance as a conscientious objector who nevertheless volunteered confounds the army. His unit Sergeant Howell (Vince Vaughn) tries to drum him out, while his squad mates, including Glover (Sam Worthington) and Riker (Luke Bracey) turn against him and label him a coward.

With help from an unlikely intervention by his father, Doss eventually gets his way, stays with the army, graduates as a medic, and marries his sweetheart, the nurse Dorothy (Teresa Palmer). His squad is dispatched to join the Battle of Okinawa, and quickly thrown into a meat grinder of a fight to dislodge the Japanese army from well-entrenched positions on top of a steep embankment labelled Hacksaw Ridge. With grim determination on both sides resulting in mass casualties on a brutal battlefield, the weaponless Doss will find his true calling.

Mel Gibson returns to the director's chair for the first time since 2006, and delivers a raw human story soaked in the blood and gore of battle. Hacksaw Ridge is an unflinching look at true heroism, and Gibson finds in Desmond Doss an assuming oddball, a deeply religious pacifist looking for his calling in the heat of battle. Doss won the Medal of Honor, and Hacksaw Ridge is a deeply satisfying salute to selfless courage.

The film is divided into three parts, with some flashbacks in the later scenes to fill in the gaps. The first third is an elegantly delivered coming of age love story, Desmond's background and formative years presented under the blazing sun of farm-bred innocence and the dark clouds of a damaged father figure. Key incidents from Doss's early life are efficiently presented, as he grows into a teenager willing to stand up to Tom, protective of his mother Bertha (Rachel Griffiths), and dogged in his pursuit of the ethereal Dorothy.

The middle of the film is a search for self: Doss knows he wants to be in the army, is insistent that he wants to go war without a weapon, and is stubborn about both obsessions to the point of taking on an incredulous army establishment. Slowly he garners a grudging respect among the fellow trainees who don't understand him, but even the grunts and sergeants begin to admire something intangible in the gangly kid with a goofy attitude but a core of steel.

The foundations solidly laid, Gibson moves confidently into the final act, shifting gears and creating nothing less than hell on earth. Taking the opening 27 minutes of Saving Private Ryan as just a starting point in the realistic representation of battle, Hacksaw Ridge goes beyond what is easily imaginable, presenting a harrowing close-up vision of war and its destructive impact on bodies and souls.

The Battle of Okinawa is recognized as one of the bloodiest of the entire conflict, with estimates of up to 130,000 soldiers killed, and is cited as one of the core reasons the decision was made to drop the atomic bombs on Japan. Gibson does not flinch from what this level of human carnage means: in a series of battles at close quarters, men are torn to pieces, guts are spilled, partial torsos are used as bullet shields, and rats feast on human remains. Death rains in from all directions, and Gibson leaves no doubt what the field of combat can do to a man who survives the horror. Suddenly both Tom's descent into an alcohol-fuelled depression and Desmond's anti-war stance make perfect sense.

The camerawork in the combat zones is superb. Gibson along with cinematographer Simon Duggan and editor John Gilbert keep the images rational, the cameras fluid, up close but only slightly jerky. The images of brutality, death, and heroism never compete with stunt directing and micro editing.

Andrew Garfield is serviceable and stays loyal to Desmond's admittedly dopey persona. Vince Vaughn finally demonstrates some acting chops outside of lame comedies, and enjoys a tremendous entry scene, Sergeant Howell invading the barracks of the new army recruits and exposing them to his brand of discipline and humiliation. Sam Worthington and Luke Bracey are the most prominent of the many fellow soldiers who endure the war with Desmond and witness or benefit from his exceptional audacity.

Hacksaw Ridge is an instant classic war film, a story of true love, religious conviction, dedicated service and remarkable bravery set amidst the worst form of perdition.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Movie Review: Two Days, One Night (2014)

A drama about economic survival, Two Days, One Night explores the thin personal and civil strands that weave a society. A superlative Marion Cotillard performance helps to create gripping viewing.

It's Friday in a small suburban Belgian town, and factory worker Sandra (Cotillard) receives bad news: her sixteen crew mates at a cash-strapped solar panel manufacturing plant have voted that she lose her job so that they can each keep a €1,000 bonus. Sandra, a married mother of two, was vulnerable because she was off work suffering from depression, and her absence proved to her boss Dumont that the work could be done with one less person. Sandra's friend Juliette helps convince Dumont to hold another, this time secret, vote on Monday morning.

Prodded by her husband Manu (Fabrizio Rongione), the reluctant Sandra sets out to talk to all 16 of her work colleagues over the weekend, pleading with them to consider voting to save her job. The response will be varied, sometimes unexpected, and Sandra will discover plenty about herself and her community.

Directed by the Belgian brothers Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Two Days, One Night is an engrossing character study that expands outwards from Sandra and into her surrounding ecosystem. With a strong focus on the dynamics of a working class neighbourhood, the film asks questions about the individual and the collective, personal needs versus social good, and the surprising limits and opportunities that reside within relationships, both personal and professional.

The Dardennes establish the premise quickly, and then settle down into a pattern of Sandra approaching each co-worker in turn, pleading for their vote, and then an interlude where the most recent interaction either raises her spirits or crushes her psyche. While some repetitiveness creeps in, the film keeps each encounter fresh, Sandra never knowing what response she is going to get, her already emotionally fragile, pill-popping state ready to either shatter or regroup according to the decisions of near-strangers.

About two thirds of the way through, Sandra's quest takes on an added dimension. There is a touching scene in the car with Manu where she smiles for the first time, discovering more about herself than she wanted to know. Then a co-worker springs a surprise and takes an emotional and financial risk of her own: a new, unexpected bond of friendship is forged. Sandra's appeal for collegial sympathy will have mixed and unintended consequences, none more important than her understanding of what emotional fulfillment looks like.

Marion Cotillard own the entire film, the cameras fully fixated on her in each scene, her acting finding a magical sweet spot where extreme anxiety and delicate determination join hands, both looking to score a win over the other.

Two Days, One Night is a stark look at the simple economics of life: a bonus or a colleague, the relative value varies according to each individual, but all the ripples are nevertheless felt throughout the same small pool.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Monday, 14 November 2016

Sunday, 13 November 2016

The Movies Of Kate Mara

All movies starring Kate Mara and reviewed on the Ace Black Blog are linked below:

Random Hearts (1999)

Brokeback Mountain (2005)

127 Hours (2010)

The Martian (2015)

Morgan (2016)

Megan Leavey (2017)

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.
The Index of Movie Stars is here.

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