Film Review: The Ides of March (2011)

Also known as: Farragut North (working title)
Release Date: August 31st, 2011 (Venice Film Festival)
Directed by: George Clooney
Written by: George Clooney, Beau Willimon, Grant Heslov
Based on: Farragut North by Beau Willimon
Music by: Alexandre Desplat
Cast: Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Marisa Tomei, Jeffrey Wright, Evan Rachel Wood, Max Minghella, Jennifer Ehle, Gregory Itzin, Michael Mantell

Exclusive Media Group, Cross Creek Pictures, Columbia Pictures, 101 Minutes

Review:

“If you want to be president, you can start a war, you can lie, you can cheat, you can bankrupt the country, but you can’t fuck the interns. They’ll get you for that.” – Stephen Meyers

Being the last few days before the 2020 Presidential Election, I figured I’d watch a few films that cover that very subject to some degree. I chose this one mainly due to the cast and because I hadn’t yet seen it.

While it was a decently acted film, it was also kind of boring and other than a few key plot points, nothing really seemed to happen, other than Ryan Gosling running around plotting and scheming to save his own skin and to suppress his own guilt. But I guess that’s politics.

This was directed by George Clooney and while I love the guy as an actor, his directorial efforts need a lot of work. It’s not that this is a bad movie, it’s just a severely dull one that sees an incredible cast just sort of sleep their way through the scenes.

Every performance seemed very understated and the only one that worked for me was Philip Seymour Hoffman’s. Everyone else just played what should’ve been very emotional scenes like they were devoid of emotion and feeling. While I also like Gosling, he does this quite a bit and sometimes it’s like someone needs to push him into expressing himself more passionately and less coldly.

Marisa Tomei was the best part of the film, as she exists in contrast to everyone else’s “cool as a cucumber” approach. However, she’s a fairly minor character and not maximized in a way that benefits the picture, overall. But when she’s onscreen, at least I felt something.

I guess Paul Giamatti also conveyed emotion but like Tomei, he’s used sparingly.

The story felt skeletal and I find it hard to believe that it was adapted to film if this movie is anything close to the source material. If so, it feels like a lot was left out or scrapped in favor of a more palatable running time.

Although, this movie could’ve definitely benefitted from more context, more story and a more energetic pace. You probably could’ve fit all that extra context and nuance into the picture had it moved with some actual life.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other films about presidential elections.

Film Review: Mission: Impossible III (2006)

Also known as: Heyday (fake working title), M:i:III (promotional abbreviation)
Release Date: April 24th, 2006 (Rome premiere)
Directed by: J. J. Abrams
Written by: Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, J. J. Abrams
Based on: Mission: Impossible by Bruce Geller
Music by: Michael Giacchino
Cast: Tom Cruise, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ving Rhames, Billy Crudup, Michelle Monaghan, Simon Pegg, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Keri Russell, Maggie Q, Laurence Fishburne, Eddie Marsan, Greg Grunberg, Aaron Paul

MI 3 Film, Cruise/Wagner Productions, Paramount Pictures, 126 Minutes, 124 Minutes (cut)

Review:

“You can look at me with those judgmental eyes all you want, but I bullshit you not, I will bleed on the American flag to make sure those stripes stay red.” – Brassel

Mission: Impossible II was such a disappointment when I saw it in the theaters, that I never saw another Mission: Impossible film after it. However, I’ve heard great things about the more recent sequels and I’ve been motivated to go back and give the franchise another shot.

Having already revisited the first two films for review purposes, I have now reached the third one, which is the first one I’ve never seen. Granted, I knew about the gist of the story as a former roommate used to talk about the movie a lot. He was also a J. J. Abrams mark until 2009’s Star Trek kicked his hard-on into the sun.

Speaking of which, this is directed by J. J. Abrams. I actually have to say that this is one of the best films he’s directed, if not the best from the ones I’ve seen.

This actually doesn’t get wrecked by relying on too many of the tropes that have made some of Abrams’ other films and television shows, predictable and tiresome. Sure, there’s the whole MacGuffin thing and the big swerve and he also borrows heavily and obviously from other films, even ones in this picture’s own franchise, but the final product was entertaining and palatable.

The film is also helped by the performances by Philip Seymour Hoffman, Tom Cruise and most of the other key players. Hoffman really stands out in this and I might even say that his talent far exceeded what was needed for this movie.

The action sequences were good, even if some of them felt familiar. The bridge battle, for instance, was very True Lies. However, at least sequences like that didn’t just outright copy their influences and tried to do something unique. Now had we had Cruise reaching for his wife to save her from her car going into the ocean, I probably would’ve called shenanigans much louder.

One thing I did like about this film is that it seemed more serious than the two before it. With that, it kind of reinvents the series and wipes away the gigantic misstep that was the second film. Because of that, this is the best film out of the first three.

In the end, this was a solid, fun movie with good action, good characters and a few performances that were much better than they had to be. Although, the twist ending about the bad guys having someone on the inside was just a rehash of the ending from the first movie and it was kind of lame. But I guess Abrams couldn’t help himself.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: the other Mission: Impossible films.

Film Review: Leap of Faith (1992)

Release Date: December 15th, 1992 (Dallas premiere)
Directed by: Richard Pearce
Written by: Janus Cercone
Music by: Cliff Eidelman
Cast: Steve Martin, Debra Winger, Lolita Davidovich, Liam Neeson, Lukas Haas, Meat Loaf, Philip Seymour Hoffman, M. C. Gainey, Delores Hall, Troy Evans

Paramount Pictures, 108 Minutes, 95 Minutes (Ontario cut)

Review:

“Look, I run a show here. It’s a lot of smoke and noise and it’s strictly for the suckers. I’ve been pulling one kind of scam or another since I was your age, and if there’s one thing I know it’s how to spot the genuine article because that’s what you’ve got to watch out for. Not the cops, you can always get around the cops. But the one thing you can never, ever get around is the genuine article, and you, kid, are the genuine article.” – Jonas

I saw this movie once a really long time ago but I really liked it and had been meaning to revisit it at some point. It’s just one of those films that slipped down the memory hole. But when I reviewed My Blue Heaven, I discovered that I hadn’t yet reviewed any of Steve Martin’s work, which was surprising due to how much I love the guy. So when I went down the list of his films, this one immediately popped out as one I needed to revisit as soon as possible.

I’m really glad that I did, as it’s held up pretty well and I’m honestly not sure why this isn’t considered one of Steve Martin’s best from the general critical consensus.

This is a film that really shows Martin’s dramatic range while still allowing him to be comedic. But this is a more serious picture than his most popular ones. Just being a few years removed from Parenthood, however, Martin was able to kind of build off of that film’s more serious tone and deliver another well-balanced performance that is both campy and real.

In this, he plays a professional conman that is running around America as a faith healer. He tries to justify his massive con by pointing out that his work, despite its dishonesty, does in fact help people because he makes them believe it. But ultimately, the story and the people he encounters on this stop of his journey, make him see himself and his work differently.

Martin is surrounded by a solid, very capable cast made up of Debra Winger, Liam Neeson, M. C. Gainey, Meat Loaf, a very young Philip Seymour Hoffman and an even younger Lukas Haas. But everyone in this film brings it. Plus, seeing the relationship blossom between Neeson’s Sheriff character, who wants to expose Martin’s preacher as a fraud, and Debra Winger, Martin’s trusted assistant, is really well orchestrated and executed.

The film lets you know that Steve Martin’s Jonas Nightingale is a pretty scummy guy from the get go but it still allows him to win you over and lure you in regardless of how he capitalizes off of very poor people’s naivety. You still fall for the guy even knowing the con and once you actually get to know him, you understand that his life has been pretty shitty too. It doesn’t excuse his poor life decisions but it allows you to understand where they came from and hope that he somehow finds a better path because he does touch people and could actually do some good in the world.

In its simplest form, this is a movie about redemption and I love redemption stories. It’s far from the greatest redemption story ever told but it is still a very enjoyable one that features a complex and charismatic character that you kind of want to root for in spite of his selfish, predatory nature.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other Steve Martin comedies with a high emphasis on drama.

Film Review: The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)

Release Date: December 12th, 1999 (Fox Bruin Theater premiere)
Directed by: Anthony Minghella
Written by: Anthony Minghella
Based on: The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith
Music by: Gabriel Yared
Cast: Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, Cate Blanchett, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jack Davenport, James Rebhorn, Sergio Rubini, Philip Baker Hall

Mirage Enterprises, Timnick Films, Paramount Pictures, Miramax Films, 138 Minutes

talented_mr_ripleyReview:

This was a picture loaded with a great up and coming cast of big stars at the time of its release. It features Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, Cate Blanchett, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Jack Davenport.

I like the film but it does have its issues.

To be completely honest, The Talented Mr. Ripley is just too drawn out. The running time is pretty long and probably should have been shaved back a bit. Sure, 138 minutes isn’t excruciating but some scenes felt too long or unnecessary. Maybe it is a true adaptation of the book, I haven’t read it, but I feel like all of this could have happened at right around 120 minutes. It just needed to be tighter, especially the second half.

The thing is, the film has layers to it, I get that. But when you strip everything apart, a whole lot happens and then you hit a wall with the pace of the story.

Tom Ripley (Matt Damon) goes to Italy to convince Dickie Greenleaf (Jude Law) to return to America. While there, he becomes infatuated with Dickie’s life to the point of developing psycho stalker characteristics. Ultimately, Dickie grows tired and bored with Tom and rejects him harshly. Tom, losing his shit, murders Dickie. Tom, who is a self-proclaimed master of imitation, pretends that he is Dickie, so that he can live his life. Dickie’s lady, Marge Sherwood (Gwyneth Paltrow) is then strung along with Tom’s charade, assuming that Dickie is still alive. Dickie’s friend Freddie Miles (Philip Seymour Hoffman) grows suspicious and winds up murdered by Tom. All the while, Tom continues to string Marge along, as well as everyone else that crosses his path. All that happens in the first 75 minutes or so. The remaining hour and its use of time is the real issue.

The film is pretty fascinating until you hit that wall. Then you just kind of want to see it wrap up and it finds ways to add more layers, mostly unnecessary to the resolution. Spoiler alert, there really is no resolution. There were multiple Ripley books however, so maybe the film was left with an open ending because of that. As a stand alone film, it just feels sort of empty and Tom getting away with his final awful act just seems implausible, considering what he’s done up to that point.

The other thing that works against this film, is that no one is remotely likable, except for Jack Davenport’s Peter Smith-Kingsly and Cate Blanchett’s Meredith Logue. Both of them, however, while important to the story, don’t have anywhere near the amount of screen time as the top billed stars. Both are tragic characters, due to their association with Tom but they aren’t as fleshed out as they should be.

Another negative was the opening credits sequence. The titles felt odd and out of place and were somewhat distracting. The editing techniques were maybe done to convey that Tom is broken or has a split personality but it makes the film feel dated in a bad way. Here we have a majestic looking motion picture that primarily takes place in 1950s Italy but the first thing we see is an over-stylized 90s credits sequence.

The story has a very Hitchcockian feel to it. Frankly, I’m surprised that Alfred Hitchcock didn’t try to tackle this book. It has everything that makes those classic Hitchcock films work yet it just didn’t capture the same sort of magic. And that’s not really due to having a mediocre director, as Anthony Minghella has helmed some fine films: The English Patient and Cold Mountain, for example.

The acting is superb, the cinematography is stellar and the overall direction was great. There is a lot to love about The Talented Mr. Ripley, despite my complaints.

Matt Damon was friggin’ perfect as Tom. Jude Law was charismatic yet despicable as Dickie. Gwyneth Paltrow was a bit grating and annoying at times but that was due to how her character was written.

The Talented Mr. Ripley is worth watching, for the most part. I just don’t think that it was as effective as it could have been.

Rating: 6/10